An internal investigation by the Portland Police Office confirmed that an officer and former president of the police union leaked news of a traffic complaint against City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty to a reporter for The Oregonian / OregonLive in retaliation for his criticism of the officers, according to a document released Thursday.
Police quickly discovered that a woman’s report that Hardesty collided with her car in traffic and did not stop was a case of mistaken identity.
Oregon Public Broadcasting first reported on the results of the internal investigation into how the media learned of the traffic complaint. The news outlet received a letter in October from Internal Affairs Lt. Scott Konczal after the news outlet submitted a public records request.
According to the letter, Brian Hunzeker, then president of the Portland Police Association, “released confidential information to the media in retaliation for speaking negatively about Portland police officers,” Konczal wrote to Hardesty.
Two other officers, Kerri Ottoman and Ken Le, also leaked news of the investigation to others in violation of department policy, internal investigators found.
According to the internal investigation, Hunzeker provided information to The Oregonian / OregonLive in a phone call and then provided a screenshot of an emergency call log showing the motorist’s report.
The internal affairs letter confirms for the first time that Hunzeker leaked the information as an act of retaliation against Hardesty.
“There were many reasons why Officer Hunzeker cited as determining factors why he shared the information and one of those factors, he admits, was in response to Commissioner Hardesty’s false accusation that officers started fires during the civil unrest.” said Northern District Commander Kristina Jones wrote. The internal affairs investigation was presented to the city’s Police Review Board in October.
In July, Hardesty said he did not believe protesters in Portland were setting fires in the city and that it was “police action.” He also said that the police were sending “spoilers and provocateurs” into the crowd to justify their use of force. Hardesty was quick to apologize for his remarks after facing strong pushback.
Newsrooms usually do not reveal their sources, except what they have published. As The Oregonian / OregonLive previously reported, reporter Maxine Bernstein received multiple leads that Hardesty was named a suspect in a non-emergency call to police.
After receiving the clues, Bernstein immediately approached Hardesty and later verified with the Police Office and the mayor’s office that Hardesty was, in fact, under investigation for the alleged hit-and-run. Bernstein then contacted Hardesty through his office again, obtained the commissioner’s statement denying his involvement, and included it in his article, published around 11 a.m. on March 4. The Oregonian / OregonLive article was updated throughout the day, including an update to remove an erroneous reference to the victim reporting hit-and-run car license plate.
That same day, Hardesty was ruled out as a suspect in the accident. The actual driver was a black woman living in Vancouver, police and prosecutors said.
The indictment naming Hardesty was also posted that morning by PJ Media, which describes itself as conservative, and on the Facebook page of the Coalition to Save Portland, a political action committee linked to the city’s police union.
According to the internal police investigation, Ottoman was the source of the March 4 leak of Gabriel Johnson, co-founder of the Coalition to Save Portland. Information and a screenshot of the call log were found to have been leaked to a friend who works as an emergency dispatcher, the letter said, both violations of department policy.
The investigation did not find that race was a motivating factor for the leaks, according to the letter.
It was unclear what disciplinary action Hunzeker, Ottoman or Le might face, if any. The internal affairs investigation was presented to the city’s Police Review Board in October. Once the investigation is complete, that panel will forward the information to the chief, in consultation with Mayor Ted Wheeler, who serves as the city’s police commissioner. They will have 10 days to make a final decision on the case, in accordance with city policy.
Sergeant. Kevin Allen, a spokesman for the police office, said that despite the publication of the letter, the internal affairs investigation is ongoing and no discipline has been imposed.
“The letter of findings is simply part of the process and the internal investigation has not concluded,” Allen told The Oregonian / OregonLive. “The chief has stated that he is inclined, once a disciplinary decision has been made, to take the unusual step of releasing the results of the internal investigation of a city employee due to the unique circumstances of this case.”
Earlier this month, Hardesty filed a $ 5 million lawsuit against Hunzeker, Ottoman, the police union and the city.
On March 3, a woman named Evelyn Ellis called the Office of Emergency Communications several hours after she said she was involved in a minor hit-and-run accident with a black woman. Ellis told the dispatcher, who is not identified in the lawsuit, that she “swore on her life” that Hardesty struck her Toyota Corolla, leaving a one-centimeter circle on the bumper, according to the lawsuit.
The dispatcher relayed the story to a co-worker in violation of city policy, and called the information “Juicy Juicy,” the lawsuit alleges. The dispatcher’s co-workers cautioned that the report may be false, but the dispatcher said, “Don’t be a grinch … in my head it’s true,” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit also alleges that Hunzeker contacted a A reporter for The Oregonian on the night of March 3 or the morning of March 4 to say that Hardesty had engaged in criminal activity and provided a screenshot of the non-emergency police call. Hunzeker’s alleged actions violated both state law and city policy, the lawsuit alleges.
– Kale Williams; [email protected]; 503-294-4048; @sfkale