Jeremiah Chass: Attention and Outrage

Posted by Gretchen Giles on Wed, Jan 14, 2009 at 4:00 AM

An impromptu memorial arose in Sebastopol Plaza after Jeremiah Chass' March 2007 death. Photo by Michael Amsler.

The tragedy of Jeremiah's Chass' murder by two Sonoma County sheriff deputies comes to an uneasy close with the news today that the Chass family has settled out of court with the county of Sonoma for $1.75 million. A good portion of that will go to fund their youngest son's college costs; a good portion of course to attorney Pat Emery; none of it will bring 16-year-old Jeremiah back to life.

On March 12, 2007, Jeremiah's parents knew that their 127-pound son, the product of a black father and white mother, was having an episode of mental decompensation. They had tried to find mental health help for him the night before to no avail. That Monday morning, they tried the old-fashioned method of getting their son some help. They called the fire department. Which routed it to the police department. Which routed the call to the sheriff's department. Which officers shot their son 11 times, beat him around the head, neck and buttocks, killed him, and then handcuffed him, put electronic paddles to his heart and attempted to restart his breathing by inserting a tube down his throat. They then stripped him nude and transported him to the hospital, dead dead dead. His autopsy and my thoughts prompted by it are here.

In their recounting of the timeline, not posted online but re-parsed in the print edition, the Press Democrat got the facts just kinda wrong. Again. What is more than irritating but downright chilling are the community comments accompanying the online edition, most of the rabid posters casting the Chass family as money-grubbers who lost their boy but gained some bucks. My gorge rises. When I last spoke to attorney Emery, he promised that a full court case would reveal a shocking breadth of incompetence by Sonoma County Sheriff Department officers. He warned that the bad facts as we know them are nothing compared to the bad facts as we don't know them. The $1.75 mill came from insurance monies set up to protect the county government; this money is no skin to Sheriff/Coroner Bill Cogbill or to county supervisors. What is skin to them is a full revelation of what what went down on the morning of March 12, 2007, and how badly our officers failed to protect and to serve.

As for the Chass family, it's easy to understand why they may have made the regrettable decision to avoid a jury trial. Yvette Chass, Jeremiah's mother, has assiduously avoided all media glare since her son's murder; Mark Chass has only regretfully appeared. With nine people subsequently killed by Sonoma County officers since Jeremiah's death, a full trial would be sure to shine under a bright squall of attention and outrage. They're still just trying to heal and provide a normal, quiet existence for their grade school son.

But attention and outrage are what we as citizens should continue to foster. We can't save Jeremiah Chass nor heal the Chass family, but we can act out in public to let the authorities know that his death and the death of nine subsequent people, is unacceptable—yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Comments (3)

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Jeremiah was an amazing human being. Any one who knew him felt his mere presence could change the outlook for the day. He is deeply missed each and every minute of each day. No matter what the Chass family could tell you or Pat Emery could present in court would give you the full understanding of the horrors that took place March 12 and beyond. It amazes me that Sheriff Cogbill can still crucify the Chass family when he knows firsthand how bad this went down. I would think he would be quiet, but he appears incapable of giving the Chass family even an ounce of dignity. I too wish ALL the content would have come out. But for what, read the comments, people choose to make an opinion based on what the media presents. Does anyone out there really want the truth, would they believe it? I have watched the facts twisted for 2 years now and I really don't think that it would have been any different had this gone to trial. The county settled for one reason only......they were wrong. If they had ANY chance at trial, they would have pursued to the fullest.

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Posted by l chmela on 01/15/2009 at 7:41 AM

What would you do if you were in a van with a delusional 127 pound teenager, with a knife, who was taped saying "I will kill you", who wouldn't put down the knife, who kicked you and did not respond to your non-lethal methods of subduing him, and who was attempting to stab you with all of his force? What would you do if you honestly thought you were about to be killed? How dare anyone second guess what goes on in the mind of anyone, cop or not, when placed in this situation. And I don't care how much professional training you've had - self-preservation is a human instinct. Jeremiah Chass I am positive was (usually) a great human being. It is obvious by all of the devotion his passing has caused. But I don't think it was the same Jeremiah that people knew who was killed that morning. In body, yes; but in spirit, no. If this same situation had occurred with an intruder in Jeremiah's place, the Sheriffs Department would of been praised for a job well done. If Jeremiah had put down the knife, he could of changed his fate. If his parents had taken him to the emergency room the previous night when they were worried about his behavior, instead of waiting until the next morning, there would not be this web-site. You don't need permission to go the the emergency room, it's your call - if you think it's an emergency, get in the car and go. I feel very bad for the officers involved and for the Chass family who will always have this scene played out in their minds. I have seen people die too, and although I was only there and emotionally but not physically involved, the horror and vividness of it all has not diminished one bit over time. Like a permanent replaying nightmare. Before you judge, please think, "what would, or could, I have done?" Push comes to shove, I bet you would do the same. God hope you are never put in the same unfortunate situation as these officers were. Lastly, don't you think these officers feel pretty terrible about what happened too? This wasn't police brutality, it was self-preservation while dealing with a full grown, delusion and threatening adult male welding a knife. The ball was always in Jeremiah's court. Maybe he was too far gone to see it, but he is responsible for the final outcome that day. Consider the options, would you rather of seen two dead cops and who knows how many dead Chass family members instead? Fate is fate and you set your own. I too mourn Jeremiah's short life, but in no way can I blame his passing on the Sheriff's Department.

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Posted by Jacques Bonet on 06/18/2009 at 8:07 PM

Aw bull , I have no police experience but I could have got him out of the van . first offer him a piece of candy . if thats not working offer some fast food . if that failed i would spray him with mace . if he still resists hit him with my taser . Still not out of the car? hit his legs with my night stick ! still no compliance ? call a fire truck to hose him out of there ! kill him with my gun NOT AN OPTION . The sheriffs blew this call bad .

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Posted by billy on 10/14/2010 at 1:07 PM
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