People's Police Report
CITY SETTLES CHASSE LAWSUIT FOR RECORD $1.6 MILLION
In a development as equally exhilarating as disappointing, City officials held a news conference
May 11 to announce a settlement agreement with the family of James Chasse, Jr., a man beaten to
death by Portland Police in September, 2006 (PPR #40). The sum? $1.6 million, the largest
amount for a single incident in the City's history; so large, in fact, it tripped the deductible ($1
million) on the city's insurance policy, so that their insurer will pay over half the amount. While this
is a good gesture for the family and their loss, many in the community had hoped the case would go
to trial so that those who caused Chasse's death would have to testify in open court. The settlement
did include an unusual and inspirational clause: That documents protected by the court's "gag
order" would be released to attorney Tom Steenson, which means they will be made available to the
Consultants' Report Reveals New Information, Recommends Change, Won't Bring
The settlement wasn't finalized until July 28, the same day the Auditor and the Independent Police
Review Division (IPR) released a report commissioned from OIR Group, a consulting firm from
Los Angeles, about the Chasse case. The report was touted as a way to uncover why the
administrative investigation took nearly three years; fortunately, the OIR consultants also looked at
aspects of the incident itself to make policy recommendations. Unfortunately, nothing they wrote
will change that the only discipline proposed was for Sgt. Kyle Nice and Officer Christopher
Humphreys, who each were "sentenced" to 80 hours unpaid leave for failing to bring Chasse to the
hospital after he had been hit with a Taser (PPR #49).
The report does not directly address the kicks to the head observed by several witnesses, which
could have been fatal. OIR does outline acts of misconduct for which the officers involved will not
be held accountable: Humphreys stating that he did not land on Chasse, then changing his story,
saying he used the proper take-down--while bragging otherwise on the jail video; Sgt. Nice, who
assumed post-incident responsibility as on-scene supervisor despite being involved in the violent
confrontation--but did not violate any existing policy. OIR recommends the Bureau prohibit such a
conflict in the future.
Transit Division supervisors were found to be encouraging officers patrolling the metro area Tri-
Met system to use more force than other units, including foot pursuits and take-downs they say
were to prevent people being hurt by buses or trains. They excused the unit's high use of force rate
by saying the community wanted them to clear transit stops of drug dealers and users. Apparently,
high-ups in the Bureau (ie, someone in the Chief's office) discouraged Internal Affairs (IAD) from
investigating the Commander, Donna Henderson, for her role in Chasse's death. OIR explicitly
states that the officers' action in chasing Chasse for allegedly urinating in public is a violation of
Bureau training on foot pursuits. Yet the officers' defense is that they did not violate the policy
because everyone in the unit was similarly violating it.
One reason it would have been important to hold the involved officers--and the supervisors at the
Transit Division--more accountable would be to send the message that beating a man to death is not
acceptable police practice.
OIR recommends getting agreements with other agencies involved in Tri-Met policing to ensure
thorough investigations into misconduct. Chief Reese says they are looking into conducting joint
investigations. There is a basic fallacy in having Portland Police command officers from 14
different agencies, as noted by the Citizen Review Committee (PPR #45). Perhaps it is time
to look at a police force just for Tri-Met with a strong accountability system, and which reports to
an elected body.
OIR also recommends that officers not be able to carry suspects in "maximum restraints," or in
other words, should not have tossed James Chasse about like a sack of potatoes. The Medical
Examiner thinks it was likely the way he was carried that drove his broken ribs into his lungs.
We enjoyed reading OIR's critique of other "experts" who claim that police need to be interviewed
24 or more hours after a shooting or death incident because their memories will be affected by
adrenaline and other factors. OIR points out such delays are not afforded to civilian criminal
suspects--so take that, Force Science Research Center! OIR implies that the police "union" contract
should be changed to allow immediate interviews.
Other recommendations include:
--Officers should not attend Use of Force Review Board when shootings and deaths are being
considered if they are allowed to make emotional pleas; Chief Reese agreed, though he omitted the
language about emotional pleas.
--The Bureau should allow the public to see portions of the Crisis Intervention Team training.
Reese agreed, except he fears compromising "public and officer safety," which is different from
previous objections about hindering officers' open communication.
--Officers should be prohibited from signing forms on behalf of a suspect for medical
--IPR and IAD should go to the scene of deaths/shootings.
Also good was OIR's repeated focus on the officer who allegedly told witnesses (incorrectly) that
Chasse had 14 drug convictions and that they had found cocaine on him, and the officers and
paramedics who were said to be laughing on the scene. But just pointing that out will not change
that those allegations were not investigated.
Information that wasn't widely known came out in OIR's report. For instance, the officers sat in the
patrol car with Chasse in the back seat while they filled out paperwork, carried Chasse 30 feet to
their car instead of driving closer, and the "highest levels" of the Bureau made the decision to hire
Deputy Bret Burton while he was still being investigated for Chasse's death. OIR also notes that
officers are coached to speak to lawyers at depositions in a way that is not "unvarnished and
We hope the Bureau and Council will ask for and incorporate public input into implementing the
NOTE: In our "top 25 settlements" list (PPR #47/ online), data provided by
the City may have led to the misunderstanding that Plaintiffs who lost their cases in court received
payment from the City. One such case was John L Kimmel, listed in the #24 spot in 2009, in which
the $70,715.75 figure was money spent by the City successfully defending the case.
Portland Shootings on the Rise
Also in PPR #51
• Oregon Shootings Double
Sit/Lie 4.0 update
• New Chief
Police Oversight System Changes
Civilian Review Board Update
• No Change In
On May Day 2010
Quick Flashes #51
• Pervocops Certifier is
• Legal Briefs 51
• Rapping Back 51