September 18th, 2006
Man called ‘combative’ dies in custody of police.
– The Oregonian
November 15th, 2013 Where have we heard this before? Actually, everywhere. Based on this headline, one can conclude that the wheels of civic order had played out with tragic consequences. The man in question here is a diminutive 42 year old named James Philip Chasse Jr. Peeling back the layers, we bear witness to an examination of a life that held so much promise. Suffering under the scourge of mental illness, James was dealt one final blow at the hands of those tasked to serve and protect him. Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse is the disturbing story of a family that never stopped fighting for their son living with Schizophrenia, and Portland police officers that would say and do anything to mitigate their negligence in his death.
The early years in the Chasse family were idyllic until James started highschool where his repel factor heightened. Desperate to break the formal education restraints, James gravitated to the creative confines of his own poetry, music and fanzine world – The Oregon Organism was his publishing breakout. Graphic drawings steeped in both whimsy (Andy Warhol would be proud) as well as haunting images and text gave us a window into the early stages of his turmoil.
A new relationship with girlfriend Kristen and his successful fight to live independently was a short respite before new tensions started to intercede when James went off his meds. Complaining of ghouls chasing him and locking demons in suitcases under his bed became James’s (Jim Jim to friends and family) new reality. The thought of walking in front of buses and jumping off bridges became all consuming. Schizophrenia had taken hold and his first engagement with the Portland police would be his last. Director, Brian Lindstrom, has painted an engrossing portrait of a man living with Schizophrenia and uncovers a taxed mental health system unable to cope. The stigma of mental illness combined with James’s dishevelled demeanor resulted in small altercation between him and the Portland police officers which escalated into an excessive use of force leading to his death.
CAUSE OF DEATH: Blunt force Chest Trauma
Lindstrom meticulously layered eyewitness testimony, videotape depositions, tainted evidence and close-circuit police video into a coherent indictment on the actions taken by members of the Portland Police Department. As expected, the officers and the police union closed ranks, digging in their heels as their grand collusion began. Every opportunity to obfuscate was taken and elevated to a tragic art form by the police. A ground swell of coverage by unified voices from the local newspaper establishment helped escalate this under reported incident to grand jury status. The pervasive stigma of mental illness and the ineffective crisis management training given to Portland police officers combined to create a series of stills released by the Portland Mercury that showed a kicked, tasered and hog tied James Chasse crumbled at the feet of 12 Portland officers and first responders causally drinking Starbuck coffee as he bleeds out.
At 5`11, 145 lb., James Philip Chasse Jr’s waifish stature would not be considered an opposing figure by any stretch. And yet he was not worthy of even the bare minimum of compassion from the police. Director Brian Lindstrom`s inclusion of the Use of Force Police Report released by the Portland Tribune and the sickening reward system for the Top 10 officers harkens to a systemic disconnect within the Portland Police Department. Mental Illness in North America is well past crisis levels and we as a society have not invested the necessary resources required to abate the situation. Alien Boy exposes just one of many examples on how various standards within certain Portland institutions have been lowered resulting in this well-documented cover up.
Verdict: 4 out of 5: Part CSI, part family tragedy and part police union pushback are just some of the moving parts that make up the James Philip Chasse Jr. story. Director, Brian Lindstrom, offers up a scathing indictment on how the Portland police treat the mentally ill with unflinching reality. The litany of checks and balances that seems to go unrecorded at every turn is shameful. Alien Boy as a documentary investigates a compelling intersection of narratives that at its core shows the chasm that still exists for those suffering from mental illness. Addressing the narrative from the context of a family tragedy, law enforcement and a grand jury investigation provides the fulsomeness this story deserves. It is said that we as a society can be judged by how we treat the most vulnerable. Director, Brian Lindstrom, has uncovered the grievous injustice done to one of the most vulnerable in our society and the long and complicated road to justice as a city and a system grappling with accountability. This documentary isn’t easy to watch but it shouldn’t be missed.
Final thought: At 19, James suffered his first beating at the hands of police that put him in a mental hospital . . . at 42, the second beating killed him.
Genre: Documentary, Crime
Director: Brian Lindstrom
Producer(s): Jason Renaud, Brian Lindstrom, Andrew Sanderson
Release Date: November, 2013
Runtime: 90 Minutes
Cast: Linda Gerber, Constance Doolan, James Chasse Sr., Tom Steenson