Former Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has accepted $680,000 from the city’s police union and two officers to settle claims that officers shared information that falsely implicated her of committing a hit-and-run.
The agreement marks the conclusion of Hardesty’s legal challenge mounted against the city and its officers for participating in what the first Black woman to serve on Portland City Council deemed a racist and politically-driven smear campaign.
In a statement shared with OPB, Hardesty said she was thankful the case has been resolved.
“This settlement holds the Portland Police Association and the individuals accountable for their wrongful conduct and the unnecessary harm they caused,” Hardesty said. “While this settlement does not make me whole, I’m hopeful that shining a light on this unfortunate situation will prevent others from having this burden brought upon them.”
The lawsuit and political fallout all began with a minor car crash that took place in March 2021 in Southeast Portland.
The woman who reported the collision told a 911 dispatcher that she was certain Hardesty was the driver of a car that rear-ended her at an intersection. The woman said the driver fled the scene.
But it wasn’t Hardesty.
Police identified the driver as another Black woman from Washington. However, the false claim that Hardesty had hit another driver had already been leaked to the media and published by news outlets, including The Oregonian/OregonLive.
Hardesty’s lawsuit, filed in December 2021, accused former Portland Police Association president Brian Hunzeker of leaking the incorrect allegation to The Oregonian. Hunzeker stepped down from his post at the union shortly after the incident, citing a “serious, isolated mistake” related to the hit-and-run investigation.
While on the council, Hardesty was a frequent critic of the police bureau and repeatedly called for greater oversight of the agency. In an internal affairs interview after the incident, Hunzeker confirmed that Hardesty’s criticism factored into his decision to leak the information.
The complaint also accused Portland Police Officer Kerri Ottoman of sharing the 911 report naming Hardesty as the driver with a political action committee called Coalition to Save Portland. That group quickly shared the false claims on a live-streamed video on Facebook.
Hardesty originally requested $3 million from the Portland Police Association, $1 million from Hunzeker and $1 million from Ottoman.
The lawsuit also claimed the city violated Hardesty’s rights, because city employees discriminated against Hardesty by sharing the false allegations.
Hardesty’s complaint asked the city of Portland for $1, but she accepted a $5,000 settlement from the city last month and a written apology from Mayor Ted Wheeler.
She was set to face the Portland Police Association, Hunzeker, and Ottoman in court Monday.
If the case had gone to trial, court filings suggest jurors would have been asked to determine whether the defendants engaged in race discrimination and retaliation, and whether Hardesty’s race was a factor in the leak.
Portland Police Association president Aaron Schmautz explained why the union chose to settle in a statement to OPB.
“The PPA carries insurance and when litigation is involved, insurance companies must make business decisions about settlement,” Schmautz said. “In this case, the PPA’s insurance carrier made the business decision to settle this case. The PPA is pleased to have this matter behind it.”
In settling the case, the officers and union don’t admit any fault.
According to one of Hardesty’s attorneys, the lump sum of $680,000 comes from the union and the two implicated officers. It’s not public how much each individual contributed to the total payout.
Hunzeker is no longer employed by the Portland Police Bureau. He resigned in April after news broke that he had been moonlighting as a Clark County sheriff’s deputy. Wheeler fired Hunzeker in February 2022 for his role in the hit-and-run leak, but an arbitrator reinstated Hunzeker a year later.
Ottoman is still a Portland Police Bureau employee, but state records show that he has been on a leave of absence since February.