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Chasse grand jury to meet Tuesday

Police watchdog group urges 'aggressive' inquiry

A Multnomah County grand jury will meet Tuesday to consider bringing criminal charges against the Portland and Multnomah County police officers involved in the death of James Chasse Jr.

Chasse is the mentally ill man who died after being arrested by Portland police near the corner of Northwest 13th Avenue and Northwest Everett Street on Sept. 17. Oregon State Medical Examiner Karen Gunson conducted an autopsy and determined that Chasse died of 'blunt force trauma to the chest,' ruling the death 'accidental.'

Police admit knocking Chasse down and using a Taser to subdue him during the arrest. Three witnesses have filed complaints with the city alleging the officers used excessive force, including kicking Chasse in the chest and head.

Present at the arrest were Portland police Sgt. Kyle Nice, 39; Portland officer Christopher Humphreys, 31; and Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Deputy Brett Burton, 26.

Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schrunk said the grand jury could meet for more than one day. He predicted that 12 to 15 witnesses could be called to testify, adding that his office had invited Chasse family attorney Tom Steenson to submit the names of anyone the family thought should testify.

'It's a tragedy and we want to present all the facts to the grand jury,' said Schrunk.

On Monday morning, the grassroots police oversight group Portland Copwatch sent Schrunk a letter urging his office to make an 'aggressive and thorough' presentation to the grand jury. According to the letter, the officers who arrested Chasse may have violated bureau policies on the use of deadly force during the arrest.

'It seems reasonable that a jury could indict the officers for criminally negligent homicide,' Copwatch activist Dan Handelman wrote in the letter.

Schrunk would not comment on the letter but said he has ruled out convening a public inquest on the incident after the grand jury finishes its work.

'A public inquest is helpful when the facts are in dispute, but this happened in front of witnesses,' said Schrunk.