October 1st, 2009 5:33 pm | by JAMES PITKIN News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, City Hall, Cops and Courts

Chasse Controversy Continues: Cop Union Brings in PR Firm, City Hall to Hire Expert (Updated with Correction)


The controversy over the death of James Chasse Jr. is ramping up, with City Hall announcing an independent probe of the police investigation and the police union bringing in a PR firm to clear up its image.

City Auditor Lavonne Griffin-Valade announced today she'll hire an outside expert to evaluate how the police bureau handled its internal investigation of Chasse's 2006 death in police custody.

The move comes after Chief Rosie Sizer announced last week that the arresting officers' use of force was acceptable — more than three years after Chasse's death from blunt-force trauma suffered during his arrest for allegedly peeing on a Pearl District sidewalk.

"Now that the investigation is closed, I want to move forward with an expert evaluation as soon as possible,” a news release (PDF) quotes Griffin-Valade saying. "It is the role and responsibility of my office to ensure an independent review of the bureau's investigation. The public and city officials need to know that the Chasse investigation was thorough, balanced, and unbiased."

Griffin-Valade isn't the first person to raise such concerns. Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland told City Council yesterday that the bureau's actions in the case have created a perception in the community that the police enjoy "impunity." He called for a release of the full investigation, a demand the police bureau shows no signs of meeting.

As outside forces raise their pressure, the city's powerful police union is planning a PR response.

Sgt. Scott Westerman, head of the Portland Police Association, tells WW that the union plans to use its new PR firm, Gallatin Public Relations, in part to improve cops' image vis-a-vis the Chasse case.

Westerman says there have been accusations the police are "losing ground" in public perception surrounding the case.

The PPA for years has employed PR firms. Westerman says the union hired Gallatin about six weeks ago to help with upcoming contract negotiations, to handle the media, and to brand the PPA as separate from the police bureau's leadership.

In her news release, Griffin-Valade said the outside expert has not yet been selected. She said the probe "will not be a re-investigation of the officers' conduct or the facts surrounding Mr. Chasse's death. Rather, the expert will evaluate the quality of the internal investigation, as well as the adequacy of the police policies that affected the actions of the officers."

The Independent Police Review Division, which is under the auditor's office, will release the final report, according to the news release. The release gives no indication how long the review will take.

For Westerman's part, he says he welcomes the investigation of the investigation.

"People think that Chief Sizer whitewashed this whole thing," Westerman says. "I think an investigative review will show it was complete, it was fair, it was appropriate."

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to correctly reflect Westerman's statement about public opinion surrounding the Chasse case. WW regrets the error.
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