PORTLAND, Ore. -- A federal judge has denied a request by the city of Portland for a change of venue in a civil rights lawsuit filed by the family of a mentally ill man who died in police custody.
The city was requesting a change of venue because authorities claim that Chasse's death was so controversial and the media coverage so "inflammatory" that there would be no way to get an unbiased jury pool from the 500,000 or so Willamette Valley registered voters.
"This media coverage has been so overwhelming, inflammatory, negative and pervasive that the City defendants believe it has unduly influenced potential jurors in the greater Portland area and the Willamette Valley," reads a memorandum filed on behalf of Police Chief Rosie Sizer, Officer Christopher Humphreys, Officer Kyle Nice and TriMet.
U.S. District Judge Garr M. King denied the motion Tuesday, saying there was plenty of prejudicial publicity but the court and attorneys for both sides should be able to seat an impartial jury.
Chasse's family sued the city alleging that Portland Police used excessive force and failed to provide adequate medical care - thereby making the city liable for his death.
Chasse died in police custody Sept. 17, 2006 after police allegedy observed him urinating in public on an Old Town street. The mentally ill man suffered 16 fractured ribs, a punctured lung and at least 19 blows to the head during efforts to subdue him, according to an internal police investigation.
The city retained Paul Wotipka to analyze local media coverage in the three years since Chasse's death. Wotipka, an information specialist with a masters degree in librarianship, documented over 288 television news stories by KGW News and others, countless "above-fold" stories by the Oregonian and Willamette Week, and three blogs devoted to Chasse. Read: Affidavit
The city of Portland, in its motion, asserted that the media coverage was slanted against police and the officers involved. That bias would make it challenging for the city to get a fair shake, the motion claimed.
Last fall, Multnomah County settled out of court with Chasse family for nearly $1 million. The trial is currently set to begin June 1.