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Consultants' Report Reveals New Information, Recommends Change, Won't Bring Justice

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 community.

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 purposes.
--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 candid."

We hope the Bureau and Council will ask for and incorporate public input into implementing the recommendations.

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.


September, 2010
Also in PPR #51

Portland Shootings on the Rise
Oregon Shootings Double
Chasse Lawsuit Settled
Sit/Lie 4.0 update
New Chief Reese
Police Oversight System Changes
Civilian Review Board Update
No Change In Profiling Data
Copwatching On May Day 2010
Quick Flashes #51
Pervocops Certifier is Perv
Legal Briefs 51
Rapping Back 51

Portland Copwatch
PO Box 42456
Portland, OR 97242
(503) 236-3065/ Incident Report Line (503) 321-5120
e-mail: copwatch@portlandcopwatch.org

Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.

People's Police Report #51 Table of Contents
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