The Portland Mayor’s office announced an independent investigation Friday into how Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty was falsely identified as the suspect in a minor hit-and-run earlier this week.
The Oregonian published a report Thursday that linked Hardesty to the incident through an unnamed source. The outlet reported that a driver was rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light in Southeast Portland. According to the initial report, the other driver fled the scene. Hardesty was reportedly listed as the suspect on a computer dispatch report.
Hardesty held a press conference vehemently denying any involvement hours after the allegation was first publicized by The Oregonian.
Portland Police later confirmed in a press release that the sitting commissioner had nothing to do with the hit and run. According to the release, the caller believed the suspect was Hardesty.
But the events left lingering questions over how the commissioner came to be named as a suspect and how it was publicized so quickly.
“What happened to Commissioner Hardesty is wrong and unacceptable,” said Wheeler in a statement. “It’s a reflection of broader systemic racism and it must be addressed. We need to get to the bottom of it as soon as possible. No one should be subjected to false accusations publicly.”
According to the statement, the Mayor’s office worked with Hardesty, the city attorney, and Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell to create a “thorough, independent review of the facts and actions surrounding the incident.”
The Mayor’s office said Wheeler has asked the police bureau to “expedite collection of all relevant information” and preserve all records related to the incident.
The mayor is expected to announce the specifics of the review next week.
A Facebook group called “Coalition to Save Portland” had also published information Thursday morning falsely linking Hardesty to the incident. The group describes itself on its Facebook page as a “Political Action Committee fed up with the policies of appeasement that allow our cities [sic] livability to deteriorate.”
“I deeply regret what Commissioner Hardesty experienced and I’m determined to find out what happened and to prevent it from happening again,” said the mayor in a statement.
Hardesty had demanded an investigation Thursday evening to “get to the bottom of where this smear campaign originated.”
“I’ve always said that we can disagree without being disagreeable,” she wrote. “This kind of personal attack, based on false accusations that were perpetuated by elements of the media, is hurtful.”