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Painting the Town Red

Chasse Protester Charged with Felony

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CHANTILLY GEIGLE knew what she was doing when she walked into Portland City Hall on Thursday, September 17, with two bottles of red paint.

An hour earlier, she'd told the Mercury over the phone that she was planning to mark the third anniversary of James Chasse's death. Chasse, a man suffering from schizophrenia, died in custody on September 17, 2006, after an altercation with police.

When Geigle entered city hall, she splattered paint throughout the east entryway, then distributed leaflets about Chasse's death while waiting for police to arrive. She was arraigned on Friday, September 18, on felony charges of criminal mischief.

That Geigle is being charged with a felony doesn't stem from the political nature of her act, but the amount of damages she caused, says District Attorney Mike Schrunk. Felony offenses cause more than $1,000 in damages, and city hall estimated the clean-up cost at $1,440, Schrunk says. For one cleaner, that's 16 hours of cleanup at $90 an hour, says Laurel Butman of the city's Office of Management and Finance.

At that rate, in a 40-hour week, the Mercury calculates that the cleaners are costing $3,600, or $187,200 annually. According to Butman the $90-an-hour figure includes labor, benefits, office space, accounting, dispatch services, and other maintenance.

Schrunk says Geigle's arrest is a property case, not a free-speech issue. "It's not a protest case. It's the damage she did while she was protesting," Schrunk says.

Schrunk, whose office works closely with police to prosecute criminals, also denies that Geigle is being charged with a felony in retaliation for protesting against them. "It'd be the same thing if you were protesting bicycles or cars or buses or Greenpeace," he says.

Both Geigle and Thad Betz, her attorney, declined opportunities to talk to the Mercury last week. Betz used a successful free-speech defense with a group of anti-war protesters who were charged with misdemeanor criminal mischief back in 2007, after splattering red paint across a military recruitment center.

Dan Handelman of activist group Portland Copwatch, of which Geigle is also a member, said Copwatch was not aware of her plans to protest the anniversary of Chasse's death and that the protest was not in conjunction with the organization.

"It's something Chani felt she had to do," Handelman said.

"I think free speech is wonderful," says Schrunk. "I just think you need to be responsible for the costs involved."

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