Tuesday morning's news of the city of Portland's $1.6 million settlement in the 2006 death of James Chasse Jr. hit the embattled Portland Police Bureau in a tender spot.
Even as bloggers and critics pencil out the sky-high costs – both financial and ethical –of the unarmed man's tragic death while in the custody of law enforcement, the police bureau is mounting a fiscal appeal for mercy in the wake of Mayor San Adams' proposed budget, released late last week.
Ironically, the amount of one-time special resource money Adams has budgeted for the Portland Police in 2011 is $3.2 million -- almost exactly the same amount that city and county government and their private sector contractors have agreed to pay for settling the Chasse case since last year. They'll be covered by a patchwork of city insurance policies.
And, as The Portland Mercury's ground-breaking reporting on the case indicates, the cost of the legal fees are not included in that settlement price – meaning the cost may reach an additional million dollars or more.
The two cops who were the actual targets of the lawsuit against the city -- Portland Police Officer Christopher Humphreys and Sgt. Kyle Nice – have since Chasse's death triggered repeated complaints and scandals.
Currently Humphries is on stress disability leave after his acquittal in shooting a 12-year-old with a beanbag gun on a MAX train. More charges remain unresolved in his physical "tackling" of an unarmed woman named Lisa Ann Coppock who was accused of not paying for her MAX ticket in 2008; the incident resulted in stitches in the commuter's head. All charges against her were dropped in March of this year, and she is now suing the city for an undisclosed sum.
Nice is now on desk duty while being investigated for allegedly threatening an unarmed motorist with his service revolver during an April road rage incident in Beaverton while he was off duty, which has reportedly triggered a $145,000 lawsuit against the city.
Chief Rosie Sizer on Monday announced that Mayor Sam Adam's citywide budget cuts, made public last week, will force the layoff of 25 officers; close the mounted division and the Cold Case Squad; and cut public availability of police services and facilities.
Adams fired back with comments describing his disappointment at Sizer's public statements.
"Many Portland households have had to cut spending to match reduced incomes. Most households prioritize their basic needs. Portland city government should be no different," Adams said.
"That is why I protected public safety from deeper cuts than I requested from other city bureaus. And, it is why I used 68 percent of one-time resources to fund requested basic needs and public safety requests: homelessness, hunger and housing programs received $3.8 million; the Police Bureau received $3.2 million; and Fire and Rescue received $2.2 million.
"Sizer and her team and I met numerous times during the budget development process to strategize on how to make the necessary cuts in the least painful manner. Today Police Chief Rosie Sizer in her press conference neglected to mention that fact. Or that she approved the cuts recommended by her Bureau and included in my proposed budget."
All told, the Chasse case – considered to be by far the largest payout in Portland history -- has cost local government more than $3 million, not including attorneys' fees. Last year Multnomah County settled for $925,000, and AMR, the ambulance service contracted by the county, paid a reported $600,000.
Meanwhile, the long-awaited Portland payout to the Chasse family – which promises to be much higher than the settlement amount because the city has also agreed to pay all legal fees to the family's attorney – will be taken up next week by the Portland City Council for a confirmation vote, Mayor Sam Adams said today.
Saltzman confirmed that a feared gag order on the case has been swept aside by the terms of the final agreement, a major point of contention for community activists who have waited to examine documents relating to the internal affairs investigation for four years.
Add to that an estimated $250,000 in legal fees incurred by Portland city attorneys who fought the settlement for years, even recently hiring a legal consultant who is also a famous television personality.
A respected musician and artist in Portland's alternative community since his preteen years, Chasse was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Since his death, he's become an enduring symbol of the need for mental health reforms across the board.
Chasse, 42 at the time of his death, had been chased down and cuffed by Humphries, after he, Nice and Multnomah County Deputy Bret Burton say Chasse urinated in public. After being hogtied and handcuffed by the officers, emergency medical workers called to the scene declared his condition stable; however jail workers refused to allow his admittance by Humphries and Nice, who put Chasse in the back of a police car and drove him on a wild goose chase between the jailhouse, a location on the side of a road and finally to a hospital emergency room, where he was declared dead.
The Oregon Medical Examiner ruled Chasse's fatal injuries were caused by blunt force trauma to the chest. However the Chasse family has consistently argued that witness statements contradicted the officers' claims.
In the family's public statement today, they and family attorney Tom Steenson issued a bittersweet statement about the pain of Chasse's death and the victory of bringing the whole story to light.
"During the course of the lawsuit, the family's attorneys took over 75 depositions of witnesses, Portland Police Bureau employees, and others, obtained over 40,000 pages of documents, retained a police expert and spoke with countless other individuals to assist the family in evaluating what caused James' death on Sept. 17," the statement says.
"During the case, the City and the other defendants sought a protective order which the family and the media opposed. Once the order was entered, the family repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, sought to vacate the order in the interest of allowing the public access to information which was subject to the protective order. As a result of the protective order and other considerations in the case, the family has not been able to share much of the information they have gathered during the litigation, including important training information and information about the City's internal investigations into James' death.
"As part of the tentative settlement of the case, the family insisted upon and the City has agreed to vacate the protective order as it applies to training information relevant to James' death, the City's internal investigations into James' death and any resulting reports or discipline," the family's statement says.
They are currently pulling the documents together and will make them available soon.
The final announcement of the Chasse settlement triggered a flurry of public statements.
"I want to thank the City Attorney for her commitment to finding an outcome that is amenable to all parties," Mayor Adams said. "And I want to thank the Chasse family for their strength and fortitude. I look forward to Council's approval of this settlement, and to opening a new chapter in the relationship between the Portland community and its public safety professionals."
"Nearly four years ago, James Chasse died in the custody of Portland Police officers. I and members of my organization felt horrible about his death. The Portland Police Bureau has spent the last three years identifying what went wrong and fixing those issues through improvements in policy, training and practice," said Chief Sizer.
"As Chief of Police, I have been frustrated by my inability to address this matter publicly due to the ongoing litigation. I believe that the Portland Police Bureau and the individual officers have been unfairly demonized," Sizer continued. "James Chasse's death was a horrible accident and not a 'beating death.' That's what the Bureau's investigation showed, and nothing in the litigation proved otherwise. The independent witnesses do not describe a rain of blows by Portland Police officers. The medical experts did not agree that the cause of death was the result of a beating. James Chasse's death was an accident, a terrible, tragic accident."