November 1, 2010

Attorneys for the family of a Portland man who died in custody held a news conference last week after the court lifted a protective order that had kept key documents related to the case under wraps. The wrongful death case against the city of Portland settled earlier this year, and the suit against Multnomah County settled in 2009. The meeting with the press was the first time the attorneys were able to talk about the evidence they had accumulated through depositions and police bureau internal investigations.

The victim’s death could have been prevented, one of attorneys said, if the two officers involved had not tried to cover up their mistakes. And, he added, there were many mistakes.

First, the officers failed to follow their training and bureau policy. One officer should have recognized that the victim’s behavior was consistent with mental illness. The officers tackled the victim, kicked him repeatedly in the chest and head and Tasered him, even though, the attorneys argued, they had no reason to stop him at all.

The officers also planted bread crumbs on the victim and used them as evidence of drug use. They did not give paramedics the full story of their assault on the victim, and they falsified paperwork. Chief among the attorneys’ complaints of the officers’ conduct, though, was the fact that they took the victim to jail instead of to the hospital. The attorney alleged that the officers were trying to cover up their actions.

Had the victim been taken to the hospital immediately, the plaintiff argued, he could have been saved. Instead, the officers tried to cover up their misdeeds, first taking the victim to the jail for booking and then delaying treatment after they realized the man was in distress. According to the documents, the attorney said, the officers only radioed for help four minutes after they’d noticed the victim wasn’t breathing.

With the cases settled, the attorneys know that they cannot do more for the victim’s family. They did, however, question why the officers are both still employed by the bureau. And the news conference prompted the mayor to initiate a U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division evaluation of the matter. The victim’s father said that, for his part, he hoped that other fathers would never have to feel the way he did.

Source: OregonLive.com “Attorneys for James Chasse Family Argue That Portland Police Coverup Led to Chasse’s Death” 10/18/10, updated 10/21/10

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