A Year Already


P. Joseph Potocki

Almost one year after his tragic death at the hands of Sonoma County Deputies, 16-year-old Sebastopol honor student Jeremiah Chass’ autopsy report has finally been released. According to Chass attorney Patrick Emery, the autopsy cites 11 gunshot wounds as the cause of his death. It was previously reported that eight gunshots were fired by the sheriff’s deputies. The autopsy report also notes Chass suffered abrasions consistent with choking.

While neither John Misita or Jim Ryan, the two deputies involved in Chass’ death, have been charged with criminal felony misconduct, a wrongful death claim filed against Sonoma County by attorney Emery on behalf of the Chass family continues to move through civil court. The county is expected to answer the charge soon, and the discovery phase should follow shortly thereafter.

A vigil marking the first anniversary of Jeremiah Chass’ death will be held in the Sebastopol Plaza beginning on Wednesday, March 12, at 6pm. The event is sponsored by the Advocates for Police Accountability, “a local coalition of 28 groups as well as several individuals that came together in 2007,” according to group spokesperson Mary Moore. Moore says attendees are encouraged to bring candles, and anyone who wishes to will be given the opportunity “to express their feelings about all those who lost their lives in 2007 at he hands of law enforcement.”

On the morning of March 12, 2007, Chass suffered a psychotic breakdown outside his family home in Sebastopol. Chass, who friends and fellow students remember as a smiling and happy teenager keenly interested in mathematics, physics and spirituality, had recently shown signs of disassociating from reality. The family had already sought counseling assistance at Jeremiah’s high school for his condition. Chass had no history of prior psychiatric hospitalizations. The night before, Chass’ mother called Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. She noted the declining state of her son’s mental condition, telling hospital workers she wanted to bring him to the hospital immediately, but was told instead to wait until morning when their unit would be properly staffed.

The next morning, Chass’ parents prepared to drive their son to the hospital when the severity of his condition suddenly escalated. His parents called for 911 assistance, emphasizing Chass’ psychiatric problems. Two Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputies, as well as other emergency personal responded in short order. Deputies John Misita and Jim Ryan each arrived at the Chass family home in separate vehicles minutes apart. Jeremiah Chass was inside the family van at the time. An altercation ensued resulting in Deputy Jim Ryan being kicked and bloodied by Chass. What occurred next is in dispute, but Jeremiah Chass died as the result.