None of the six civilian witnesses to the police takedown of James Chasse Jr. agreed with Portland Police that he was pushed, as the department said a month ago in a "fact sheet" about the incident.
Additional accounts of the actions leading up to Chasse's Sept. 17 death have emerged in hundreds of new pages released for the first time last Thursday, and those accounts indicate police tackled Chasse.
The medical examiner ruled Chasse was killed by broad-based blunt-force trauma, most likely caused when Officer Christopher Humphreys fell on top of him. Police came under fire when other statements made by the three officers involved, which came out before the witnesses' statements, didn't match the "fact sheet" that was released a month after Chasse's death.
At that time, police spokesman Sgt. Brian Schmautz said the "fact sheet" was assembled from the totality of the evidence, including the then-confidential witness accounts. The "fact sheet" asks, "Did officers tackle Mr. Chasse?," and answers itself, "One officer used his forearm to push Mr. Chasse to the ground to end the foot pursuit, which is consistent with Bureau training."
But now, not one civilian witness describes such a push.
Of the nine people who saw the initial takedown or its immediate aftermath, including the three officers involved, only one person (Humphreys) described something similar to the "fact sheet"—a version that just happens to conform to police procedures. "I don't see how they can draw that conclusion from any of the evidence that was available to them," says Chasse family attorney Tom Steenson of the "fact sheet."
Justin Soltani saw the afternoon encounter between Chasse and police while driving down Northwest Everett Street. "Two officers chase[d] him down and the guy with the hat on just tackled him down."
The investigator asked him, "[W]hen he went to the ground, could you tell if it was the result of something that the officer that was chasing him did or did he just fall on his own or could you tell?"
"It was the Portland Officer on him," Soltani replied.
Investigators asked witness Jamie Marquez, who was about 20-30 feet from the action. "[W]as it a tackle, was it a push or how did it happen?"
"It was like a, a football tackle. Like you know, a, a nose guard tackling into the quarterback, kinda just throwing him down to the ground."
Investigators asked Randall Stuart, "Was he like tackled where an officer would put his arms around him or was he pushed or, or how did, tripped or how did they actually get him?"
"I would say the three men in uniform were able to gain on him enough to leap upon h—I think it's fair to say everybody leapt upon him," said Stuart, who was on the corner of 13th Avenue and Everett Street.
Lawyer Mark Ginsberg saw the encounter between Chasse and the officers from his car.
Chasse, he said, "didn't take more than a step and all three officers...sort of tackled him, like a pretty aggressive flying tackle. Threw him right on the ground."
Even Portland Police Sgt. Kyle Nice, who was also involved in the incident, said Humphreys used a "bear hug" tackle.
Only Humphreys describes anything like the official version.
"I gave him a really hard shove with my forearms on his back," Humphreys said.
Police spokesman Schmautz says detectives working the case gave him information for the "fact sheet."
Detectives believe that Chasse was probably pushed and not tackled based on Humphreys' injuries, Chasse's injuries, the physical layout of the scene and statements made by the officers and witnesses, Schmautz says.
"They try to balance perception and reality," he says.
Schmautz noted officers are trained to push, and not tackle, mainly to prevent injury to themselves and help them keep control over their weapons and the situation.
Schmautz says, "Is it possible that detectives truly believe that he was pushed and are wrong? Yes."