On Tuesday afternoon, October 17, the seven-member Multnomah County Grand Jury "voted unanimously not to return criminal charges against any individual in connection with the death of James Chasse [Jr.]," Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schrunk wrote in a statement. Chasse died in police custody on September 17, after police arrested him in the Pearl District.
Witnesses have said publicly that Chasse's arrest was brutal: Police officers kicked, punched, and Tasered the 42-year-old man. The state medical examiner's report indicated that Chasse, who suffered from schizophrenia, died as "a result of broad-based, blunt force trauma to the chest," that broke 16 of his ribs, punctured a lung, and caused massive internal bleeding.
The Grand Jury heard from 30 witnesses over five days, and "reviewed exhibits, photographs, and records that included Mr. Chasse's extensive mental health history," Schrunk said. Attorneys and an investigator for the Chasse family were also involved in the Grand Jury process, and requested testimony from former State Medical Examiner Dr. William Brady.
Following the Grand Jury verdict, Mayor Tom Potter—who, along with Police Chief Rosie Sizer, has called for improved services for those with mental illnesses and better training for police in the wake of Chasse's death—said he would convene a committee to study the intersection of the mental health and criminal justice systems.
Chasse's family may still pursue a civil suit against the officers involved in Chasse's death, the police bureau, and the city. The family's attorney, Tom Steenson, was not planning to release a statement on Tuesday.
Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch, called the Grand Jury decision "disappointing, but it's not surprising."
"There's never been an indictment for an on-duty officer's use of force, as far as we know, at least in the last 30 years—perhaps longer than that," Handelman said. "It's disappointing because there were a lot of witnesses in this case. It seems like the officers used an extreme amount of force for what the underlying reason was for interacting with Mr. Chasse in the first place."
Police say they were prompted to stop Chasse because he was acting strangely, possibly as if he were on drugs—Officer Christopher Humphreys told detectives investigating Chasse's death that "his eyes were big like he was in terror"—though toxicology results on Chasse were negative.
Detective George Burke, who investigated for the police, also says Chasse's injuries—as assessed by medical examiner Karen Gunson—were consistent with 245 lb Humphreys accidentally falling on Chasse after he was pushed to the ground.
"This was an exceptional set of circumstances," says Police Chief Rosie Sizer. "Other families of those with mental illness have said we have handled their crises with care and compassion and we hope to deliver service in that way. We hope to do better in the future."