After public urging by local and state officials, as well as Oregon's two U.S. senators, the U.S. attorney for Oregon confirmed late Wednesday that his office is looking into the circumstances surrounding the surveillance and arrest of a black Portland man in 2017.
"The U.S. Attorney’s Office is engaged in an active investigation to evaluate criminal wrongdoing in the West Linn Police Department matter," Kevin Sonoff, spokesman for U.S. Attorney Billy Williams, said in an email.
"While our investigation is ongoing, we respectfully decline further comment," Sonoff's message concluded.
The baseless arrest, which led to a $600,000 legal settlement for Michael Fesser, has roiled community members, elected officials and police leaders in West Linn and beyond. The settlement was first reported by The Oregonian/OregonLive.
Shortly before the federal prosecutor confirmed the investigation, district attorneys in Clackamas and Multnomah counties announced in a joint "statement of agreement" that they had asked for "federal criminal investigations of the Michael Fesser/West Linn Police Department matter."
The statement from Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote and Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill said that Williams "has graciously agreed to assume that responsibility."
"We will work closely with each other through this process," they said in a joint statement.
What the government attorneys refer to as "the Michael Fesser/West Linn Police Department matter" revolves around the West Linn Police Department's treatment of Michael Fesser, a Portland man who reported racial harassment to his boss, Eric Benson, the owner of Southeast Portland’s A&B Towing.
Rather than address the concerns, Benson asked his friend, former West Linn Police Chief Terry Timeus, to investigate allegations that Fesser was stealing from the company. Fesser was subsequently arrested by West Linn police with the assistance of Portland Police officers.
In the last few days, U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden called for a federal investigation, Gov. Kate Brown asked the state's Department of Public Safety Standards and Training to look into what happened, and city leaders in Portland and West Linn have expressed regret, offered apologies and promised improvements.