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Police Officers Leaked False Hit-and-Run Allegations Against Commissioner Hardesty in Retaliation, Investigation Finds – Blogtown

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Mercury staff

A letter from the internal affairs department of the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) has confirmed that three police officers, including former head of the police union Brian Hunzeker, were responsible for the information leak that led various media outlets to report incorrectly that City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty had committed a hit-and-run in March.

The October letter, first obtained by OPB, details how a false accusation ended up being reported as fact by the Oregonian and various conservative media channels.

The PPB investigation, which began at Hardesty’s request, centers on a 911 call made on March 3, in which a caller accused Hardesty of rear-ending his vehicle in southeast Portland before fleeing. of the scene. While PPB later discovered that the caller had incorrectly identified Hardesty as the suspect, the investigation found that officers wasted no time leaking this information as fact.

The investigation names three officers: Hunzeker, who was president of the Portland Police Association (PPA) at the time of the incident, Ken Le and Kerri Ottoman.

According to the investigation, Hunzeker called a reporter to share the news of this alleged crime and then sent that reporter a copy of the transcript of the 911 call. PPB Commander Kristina Jones, who reviewed the incident for the division PPB’s internal affairs officer, noted that Hunzeker “admitted” that these acts violated PPB directives. According to the media reports of the day, it can be concluded that the reporter contacted by Hunzeker was an employee of the Oregonian.

Jones found that Hunzeker had leaked this information in retaliation for Hardesty speaking negatively about PPB officers. Specifically, Hunzeker told investigators that the leak “was in response to Commissioner Hardesty’s false accusation that officers set fires during the civil unrest,” a claim Hardesty made in 2020 and later apologized for.

The investigation also confirmed that Le shared a screenshot of the 911 call transcript with his friend, a 911 operator for the Office of Emergency Communications (BOEC) who was off duty at the time. This action violated PPB policy.

And, PPB discovered that Ottoman leaked the same call log screenshot to his friend, Gabe Johnson, the head of a conservative group called “Coalition to Save Portland.” Ottoman explained to investigators that he was “venting” when he shared this information. At the time, Johnson shared this information on his group’s Facebook page, and the news quickly spread to other conservative outlets online.

Jones concluded that none of the officers’ actions were racially motivated, a concern Hardesty had raised in his initial complaint.

This letter supports the claims made by Hardesty in a lawsuit he filed against PPA, the City of Portland, Hunzeker, and Ottoman on December 13. The lawsuit alleges that the leak was racially and politically motivated, as Hardesty is the first black woman to sit City Hall and is a longtime critic of the police office.

“The information leaks were made with real malice because they were made with knowledge that the statements were false or with reckless disregard of whether the statements were false or not,” the lawsuit read.

The lawsuit does not name Le, but charges an unidentified BOEC member of sharing the false report with his colleagues, identifying the information as “Juicy Juicy.” The lawsuit requests $ 3 million from PPA, $ 1 million from Hunzeker, $ 1 million. Ottoman, and $ 1 – “nominal damage award” – from the city of Portland.

While the internal affairs investigation has now concluded, the office has not made public the discipline officers faced for their misconduct. All three officers remain employees of PPB. However, in March, Hunzeker resigned as chairman of the PPA, citing a “serious and isolated mistake” that was not “driven by malice.”

Others in the city have already been reprimanded. Previous reports from Willamette Week found that BOEC suspended three BOEC dispatchers in July for their role in spreading this leaked information.

The October letter was released Wednesday after months of exchanges between Hardesty’s lawyers, the city attorney’s office and the media. OPB reports that the city attorney’s office denied its initial request for the letter, but OPB’s subsequent appeal to the Multnomah County district attorney’s office was approved this week. According to OPB, DA Mike Schmidt ruled that publication of the letter was in the public interest.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Captain Tina Jones spoke directly with the officers under investigation, when she was only reviewing information collected by other PPB investigators who had interviewed them.

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