Crammed unceremoniously into a hallway outside his office with dozens of reporters Tuesday afternoon, October 17, Mayor Tom Potter gave what few answers he could muster up following the James Chasse Jr. verdict—refusing to answer specific questions about the case, but grandstanding for the handful of committees he's forming.
The mayor was—per usual—stiff as a board, despite the blatant testiness of the reporters present, several of whom were taken aback by yet another show of legal approval for lethal police actions. "Why is the standard for criminal negligence so much higher for cops?" one reporter, standing a foot away from the mayor, asked.
"I think that's your opinion," Potter answered, followed by three or four seconds of loaded silence. Several other questions followed: When will it be safe for people with mental health problems to call 911? How can you call Chasse's death an accident when 16 of his ribs were broken? When can we expect any real answers in this case?
But, doing what he does best, Potter deflected most of the questions, saying things like, "We need to wait until the police bureau's internal investigation is complete."
And doing what he does second best, Potter has formed a committee with independent State Senators Avel Gordly and Ben Westlund—along with Diane Linn and Ted Wheeler—that will look at ways to reform the interaction of the mental health and criminal justice systems. That's something the city and state have needed to do for years—ever since mental health funding evaporated—but it's difficult to believe a committee could have saved Chasse.
Worse, it suggests the mayor is attempting to play Chasse's death as a mental health issue—not one of police brutality. Or, in the words of Portland Copwatch head Dan Handelman: "I think that's important to do that, but James Chasse didn't die because of the mental health system. He died because police beat him to death."
Perhaps more hopefully, the city auditor's office is going to (ta-da!) form a task force that will analyze data that has been collected over the past two years on every incident in which a cop has used force. The task force will be headed up by Independent Police Review Division Director Leslie Stevens and rounded out by members of the Citizen Review Committee and the police bureau. It'll look at patterns in the use of force, broken down by shift and precinct—and perhaps by individual officers. Stevens hopes to release a public report—with policy recommendations—by February.
Sadly, that'll be much, much too late for James Chasse.
smoore@portlandmercury or via AIM at smooremercury