Oregon U.S. Attorney Billy Williams announced on Friday that his office would not bring federal criminal charges against former West Linn police officers and others who participated in the baseless arrest of a Black man in 2017.
On Feb. 25, 2017, Michael Fesser was arrested in Portland without probable cause. The arrest was prompted by false information from then West Linn Police Chief Terry Timeus. West Linn ultimately paid Fesser a $600,000 settlement and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division launched an investigation for federal criminal wrongdoing.
“Here, the government cannot prove that the manner in which Mr. Fesser was arrested violated a federally protected right, or that the actions taken by law enforcement officials were willful,” the U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement Friday.
Federal prosecutors would’ve had to not only prove Fesser’s conditional rights were violated, but that the West Linn and Portland officers involved in Fesser’s arrest acted willfully.
“Willfulness requires proof that an officer acted with the specific intent to do something the law forbids,” the U.S. attorney’s office stated. “It is not enough to show that an officer made a mistake, acted negligently, acted by accident or mistake, or even exercised bad judgment.”
As part of its investigation, the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office issued 24 subpoenas and reviewed 28,000 pages of documents including phone, financial, training and disciplinary records as part of the yearlong investigation, which was officially closed Friday.
Prior to his 2017 arrest, Fesser worked for Eric Benson at A&B Towing in Southeast Portland.
Benson believed Fesser was going to sue over racial discrimination and responded by alleging Fesser was stealing from the business. Benson contacted his friend, Timeus, asking that he conduct a criminal investigation into Fesser. Timeus opened one without evidence and put then Sgt. Tony Reeves in charge. During the investigation, Benson sent racist text messages to Reeves.
West Linn police officers surveilled Fesser and ultimately arrested him without probable cause in 2017, with the assistance of five Portland Police Bureau officers.
Fesser’s attorney, Paul Buchanan, said he appreciated what “appears to have been a thorough investigation” and said it’s “healthy” for police to have this kind of conduct reviewed by the federal government.
“I understand that, unfortunately, under current law, proving a federal criminal civil rights violation by the police is extraordinarily challenging,” Buchanan said.
Still, he said he believes one clear example of criminal conduct involved a Nov. 10, 2017 police report by then West Linn Lt. Mike Stradley; a report Portland police failed to provide as part of discovery during the civil litigation. Buchanan said that was a false report he believes was intended to make Fesser seem dangerous.
In the report, Stradley contacted PPB months after Fesser’s arrest, and after Fesser filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against Benson.
According to the police report, Stradley s: “In the past, Fesser had made threats to assault Benson, his employees, and to damage his business.” That statement, Buchanan said, was false.
The PPB report also notes “Lt. Stradley was concerned that when Fesser was arrested he may follow through with these mentioned threats.”
Stradley has been on paid leave for the last year from his current job as a supervisor of the training program at the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, the state’s police academy.
Buchanan said during lengthy depositions with Benson and Stradley, neither claimed Fesser threatened anyone.
“Mr. Benson repeatedly testified that Mr. Fesser had never threatened in him in any way,” Buchanan said. “Stradley said that he knew virtually nothing about Mr. Fesser’s activities in the past several decades.”
Making a false police report in Oregon violates state law.
“That should be especially true for a police officer,” Buchanan said.