An independent investigation has begun into a leak falsely identifying Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty as being involved in a hit-and-run, according to a joint statement from Hardesty and Mayor Ted Wheeler. An additional, broader investigation into bias at the Portland Police Bureau is expected soon.
The city hired the OIR Group, a Los Angeles-based firm that specializes in policing, to conduct the outside investigation. It’s separate from ongoing internal investigations being done by the Portland Police Bureau and the Bureau of Emergency Communications.
“It will take some amount of time for them to do their investigation, complete their work, and report back to city council and the public,” Wheeler told OPB’s “Think Out Loud” on Friday. “We have to churn through the process. We have to be thoughtful in terms of the scope of the investigation externally. And internally we have to let the internal affairs process run its course.”
The leak happened after a 911 caller misidentified Hardesty as the driver of a vehicle that hit her car. Someone with knowledge of the incident leaked the information to conservative media and local news outlets, who then published a story about the allegation.
Hardesty was cleared of any wrongdoing the same day but the leak, the second to target the commissioner in the past four months, has led to accusations of political vengeance from a police bureau furious at her long-standing goal of smaller police budgets and more rigorous police oversight.
“As someone who’s been working on police accountability for 32 years, I can tell you that this is a normal tactic used to discredit people who want to put accountability into our police force,” Hardesty said during a March 4 press conference addressing the leak.
The independent investigation was announced days after Portland Police Association President Brian Hunzeker resigned from the rank-and-file officer’s union, citing “a serious, isolated mistake related to the Police Bureau’s investigation into the alleged hit-and-run by Commissioner Hardesty.”
The union has not offered specifics as to what that mistake was, despite continued demands for details from both Wheeler and Hardesty. Hunzeker’s resignation and the continued fallout from the leak come at an inopportune time for the union, which is in the midst of renegotiating its contract with the city. Front and center in that fight is the union’s desire to prevent a voter-approved independent oversight board with broad autonomy to discipline and fire officers from going into effect. Hardesty helped get the proposed board on last November’s ballot.
Wheeler and Hardesty announced the fourth investigation on Friday into racial and political bias at PPB, and the bureau’s resistance to change.
The March 3 leak has raised a number of questions about misconduct and cultural issues at the bureau. Its very public feud with Hardesty comes after multiple incidents of officers politically attacking elected leaders, a stunning violation of norms — and possibly bureau directives — from an organization that has said it is eager to improve relations with the community.
“There clearly seems to be a pattern of trying to discredit leaders who have traditionally stood up against the union,” Hardesty told OPB’s “Think Out Loud this week.
The hit-and-run leak came a little more than a month after the Oregonian/OregonLive reported that a Portland police officer allegedly shared screenshots from a city computer showing Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt’s home address. That information was sent to a conservative website, prompting Schmidt and his family to leave their home for a period of time.
Schmidt was elected by a wide margin on a platform that emphasized drug counseling and mental health treatment over incarceration and promised to get away from policies that criminalize poverty. He has drawn sharp criticism from law enforcement.
That criticism crossed over into potential violations of bureau directives in January during a community meeting in the Lents neighborhood. As Willamette Week first reported, East Precinct Commander Erica Hurley told the anti-crime Lents Neighborhood Livability Association that if residents want more done about people camping on the street, drug use, or crime, they need to vote Schmidt out of office.
“When the vote comes up again — because, the reality is, he won the vote with over 70% of the people — you have to vote ‘no,’ right? " Hurley said.
The 26-year-veteran of the bureau also lamented that officers can no longer arrest unhoused residents for loitering. She went on to make false claims about the size of budget cuts and officer reductions passed in the wake of last summer’s protests.
A police bureau spokesperson said Internal Affairs does not provide updates to investigations.
In a report released this month, the Police Review Board detailed a 2019 incident in which an officer delayed their response to a welfare check and made partisan political comments as they allowed a suspect to leave the scene.
“Employee 1 told witnesses that, due to the Obama administration, police do not chase known suspects,” the report reads.
That officer was ultimately fired for violating a number of bureau directives but police union executive director Daryl Turner told OPB the decision is currently being challenged in arbitration.
Activists and some city leaders have also accused the Portland Police Bureau of playing favorites at demonstrations, criticizing the way officers have responded with harsh tactics — including the deployment of impact munitions and tear gas — against Black Lives Matter demonstrators while appearing to tolerate or ignore armed and often violent far-right demonstrators.
“There is a clear difference in how police show up when they’re showing up when white nationalists and white supremacists take to our street and how they show up when they believe Black Lives Matter people are protesting,” Hardesty said, explaining the racial bias she would like to see investigated.
Wheeler and Hardesty said they hope to finalize the investigation’s scope and select the independent investigator as soon as possible.