Arts | News

Film Explores The Life And Death Of James Chasse

OPB | Feb. 15, 2013 6 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 20, 2013 1:08 p.m. | Portland

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Friday evening, the Portland International Film Festival will bring movie goers one of the darkest moments in Portland’s recent history.

On September 17 2006, Portland Police officers confronted James Chasse on a Pearl District corner. Chasse was subsequently beaten and shocked with a Taser. He died in police custody, shortly afterward.  

This photo was taken by Portland bartender Jamie Marquez during the incident that led to Chasse's death.

This photo was taken by Portland bartender Jamie Marquez during the incident that led to Chasse's death.

Provided by Brian Lindstrom

His death sparked investigations that led to changes in Portland Police policies. The documentary “Alien Boy” presents several previously unheard views of Chasse’s life and death.

Filmmaker Brian Lindstrom spent five years on the project, researching Chasse, whom he calls “Jim.”

Lindstrom and his team use photos from passersby to reconstruct how Chasse was approached after officers thought he might have been urinating on the street. And Lindstrom talked to people who saw what happened — Jaime Marquez, Randall Stewart and Constance Doolan.

Jaime Marquez “It was kind of a regular day, it was warm.”
Randall Stewart  “It was an unexpected moment of chaos in an orderly area of town.”
Constance Doolan “I looked up just as the four men were hitting the pavement.”
Randall Stewart “The sound was extraordinary.”
Constance Doolan “Saw the officers tackle James. Hit the ground hard”
Randall Stewart “There was a slap of bodies you could hear.”
Constance Doolan “they were trying to get him to lay down, face down.”
Jaime Marquez “It looked like two men shaking out a rug.”
Constance Doolan “He was clearly very frightened.
Jaime Marquez “I saw knees to the chest, punches to the face.”
Constance Doolan “The officers kicked him.”
Jaime Marquez “The officer behind him was striking down behind him.”
Constance Doolan “Slapped him upside the head.”
Jaime Marquez “A haymaker, what we call it.”

Never-before-seen court depositions show what Officer Christopher Humphries being questioned by attorney Tom Schnieger.

(Deposition tape)
TomSchnieger.: “Do you recall as the paramedics were leaving, that he screamed ‘Don’t leave me, don’t leave me”?
Christopher Humphries: “I don’t remember that.”
Tom Schnieger.: “‘Take me to the hospital, don’t leave me’?”
Christopher Humphries: “I did not hear that.”
Tom Schnieger.: “But you heard him say ‘Don’t leave me’?”
Christopher Humphries: “I did.”
Tom Schnieger.: “That’s pretty sad isn’t it.”
Christopher Humphries: “The whole situation’s pretty sad.”

The film travels with Chasse in jail surveillance video. Chasse howls in pain from 12 to 16 broken ribs and a separated shoulder.

Brian Lindstrom:  “Jim was face down, his hands are behind his back. He’s hogtied.”

James Chasse, at a restaurant, several years before his death.

James Chasse, at a restaurant, several years before his death.

Provided by Brian Lindstrom

The deputies carry Chasse, face down, dangling by his arms and legs.

Lindstrom said,  “You can imagine how that would feel even if your ribs are intact.”  

Lindstrom and his crew tracked Chasse’s teenage years.  He grew up in Portland, drawing, writing poems, and getting into the evolving punk rock scene. Chasse was well-known enough that he inspired two songs by local bands.

Chasse succumbed to schizophrenia in his late teens. He dropped out of school, moving in and out of mental institutions. But Lindstrom notes, Chasse was independent for many years.

Lindstrom said,  “Jim was actually a success story. He’s someone that lived with severe and persistent mental illness for his mid-teenage years and for the most part avoided institutionalization, and was able to build a life for himself.”

Lindstrom says he was struck by who James Chasse was before he became a headline.

A page from James Chasse's journal.

A page from James Chasse's journal.

Provided by Brian Lindstrom

He explained,  “That was really our first inspiration is to show the beauty, the grace, the hardship, the fullness of Jim’s life. He wasn’t just reduced to this headline. He was someone’s lover, someone’s friend, someone’s brother - all the things we all are.”

None of the officers involved agreed to speak to Lindstrom for the project. The Portland Police Bureau would not talk directly about the film, but sent OPB a statement saying “the Bureau has implemented numerous improvements to its response to those who suffer from mental health issues”.

James Chasse, outside a group home in Portland

James Chasse, outside a group home in Portland

Provided by Brian Lindstrom


“Alien Boy: the Life and Death of James Chasse”, premieres Friday as part of the Portland International Film Festival. Portland’s Cinema 21 will show the film from March 1 to March 7.

See the trailer:

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