The Portland Police Bureau is pushing forward with mental health reforms mandated by the U.S. Deportment of Justice—but one officer picked to work with the mentally ill is drawing criticism from advocates, The Skanner reports today.
In a story about the reforms—which are being negotiated between the federal government, the city and the police union this month—the paper says that Chief Mike Reese appointed Officer Bret Burton as the city's Mobile Crisis Unit officer.
Burton was the officer who used a Taser on James Chasse during a foot pursuit in 2006. Chasse later died of his injuries, sustained when Officer Chris Humphries tackled him.
Burton, who was a Multnomah County Sheriff's deputy when he tased Chasse, was featured in Alien Boy, a documentary on Chasse's death released in February.
Mental health advocates question Reese's call to assign Burton to a unit that works the front lines with those who may be in mental health crisis.
“We were very surprised that Burton was selected of all the officers taking courses,” says Jason Renaud, co-founder of the Mental Health Association of Portland. The mental health association position is that officers who are responsible in the death of a citizen should not remain in the police force, Renaud said, and the Chasse case raised troubling issues about the officers actions.
“So we asked for his resignation and we asked the city not to hire him.”
Burton was one of three law enforcement officers at the scene of Chasse’s arrest. His employer at the time, Multnomah County paid $925,000 to Chasse’s family to settle a civil suit. The City of Portland, who employed the other two men, Officer Christopher Humphreys and Sgt. Kyle Nice, paid out $1.6 million to settle the civil suit. An ambulance company, American Medical Response, paid $600,000.
Burton was also featured in February in a KGW piece about the mobile crisis unit. Burton told the TV reporters working on the Mobile Crisis Unit is his way of avoiding another confrontation that ended like Chasse's.
“It was a tragic day. And something I think about every day," Burton told KGW. “It’s definitely something that's changed my life and changed the way we do police work here in the city."