Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has filed a $5 million lawsuit against a police officer, the police union, and the former union head. Hardesty alleges members of the police bureau and union leaked information that falsely implicated her in a hit-and-run.
The lawsuits revolves around the political fallout from a car collision that took place March 3. A 46-year-old white woman who reported the crash told a 911 dispatcher she was confident that Hardesty had rear-ended her vehicle at an intersection in Southeast Portland and then fled the scene. The woman was wrong about the identity of the other driver. Police quickly identified the suspect as a woman from Vancouver, Washington. But, by that point, the false allegation against Hardesty had already been leaked to the media and published by news outlets, including The Oregonian/OregonLive.
The lawsuit, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court Monday, accuses former Portland Police Association head Brian Hunzeker of leaking the incorrect information to the Oregonian. Hunzeker left his post as union head shortly after the incident, citing “a serious, isolated mistake.”
“On the evening of March 3, 2021 or the morning of March 4, 2021, Defendant Hunzeker contacted a reporter at the Oregonian, disclosed that Hardesty had engaged in criminal activity and provided the newspaper with a screenshot of the CAD call,” the lawsuit claims. “Defendant Hunzeker’s leak of this information violated both Oregon law and city policy.”
The suit also alleges that Portland Police Officer Kerri Ottoman reached out to a political action committee called the Coalition to Save Portland and provided the director, Gabriel Johnson, with a screenshot of the computer-aided dispatch record naming Hardesty. The suit states Johnson, along with co-founder Angela Todd and former Multnomah County Republican Party chair Jeff Reynolds, released the information on a live-streamed news show.
Attorneys Matthew Ellis and Stephen Brischetto are representing the commissioner. The lawyers did not provide evidence in their suit supporting the claim that Hunzeker was the source of the leak to the Oregonian or that Ottoman was responsible for leaking the information to the Coalition to Save Portland. Ellis did not respond to an inquiry.
The lawsuit was first reported by Willamette Week.
Hardesty is asking for $3 million from the Portland Police Association, $1 million from Hunzeker and $1 million from Ottoman. The commissioner is also looking to collect an “award of nominal damages”, $1, from the city of Portland.
The suit alleges that the leak was racially and politically motivated. Hardesty is the first Black woman to serve in City Hall and has earned a reputation on council as an outspoken police critic and an ardent voice for more civilian oversight of law enforcement.
“Commissioner Hardesty’s advocacy for true police accountability and reform makes her Public Enemy No. 1 for many at the PPB and PPA,” Ellis and Brischetto wrote in a joint statement. “Yet, despite attempts to punish her for her advocacy and force her out of office in retribution for her tireless and effective advocacy, Commissioner Hardesty will not be silenced.”