The issue surrounding a well respected and historical city commissioner just will not go away. City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, the first Black woman elected to the Portland City Council, filed a $5 million lawsuit Monday against the city’s police union, its former president Brian Hunzeker, and a Portland Police Bureau officer named Kerri Ottoman, alleging they leaked information that falsely implicated Hardesty in a hit-and-run crash last spring.
In addition to the monetary damages that Hardesty is seeking from the city, she is also asking for a declaration stating the city violated her rights “to be free from race-based discrimination and retaliation” under Oregon’s public accommodations laws.
At a news conference, before police announced Hardesty wasn’t a suspect, Hardesty called the allegations a “smear campaign” against her and said she wanted the report investigated because it “threatens to damage my reputation as a City Council member and as the transportation commissioner.” She said she was home at the time of the reported incident.
The police reports show Ellis, the woman who reported the collision, told dispatchers she was starstruck because she saw Commissioner Hardesty in the suspect vehicle. But she was mistaken. Ellis said on the call that she didn’t get the other driver’s license plate number “but I know who hit me.” She continues, “This is where it gets bizarre. It was a city commissioner,” she told the dispatcher, according to the audio. “It was Jo Ann Hardesty. She was behind me for three stop lights. I know it was her.”
The rear-end crash occurred at 4:48 p.m. at Northeast 148th Avenue and East Burnside Street. Ellis called non-emergency dispatch at 11:09 p.m.
The Portland Police Traffic Investigation Unit began an investigation and have ruled out Commissioner Hardesty as a suspect in the case,” the police statement said.
A far right Facebook site called “savepdx.org,” posted a Zoom live chat Thursday morning hosted by Jeff Reynolds, a former Multnomah County Republican Party chair, cited the Portland police incident report on the hit-and-run involving Hardesty. The Facebook site describes itself as a “Coalition to Save Portland” that is “fed up with the policies of appeasement that allow our cities livability to deteriorate.” The live chat was titled “Scandal at City Council. Reynolds, served for four years as chair of the Multnomah County Republican party.
The lawsuit says, “The leaks alleged… violated both city policy and Oregon law,” “None of the individuals who leaked the information were legally authorized to leak this information, and all are subject to discipline…for their leaks of confidential information.” “The leaks of information were made because of race and in retaliation for plaintiff’s years of opposing race discrimination by the PPB and members of the PPA,” “The leaks of information were made with actual malice because they were done with either knowledge that the statements were false or with reckless disregard of whether the statements were false or not.”
The lawsuit accuses Hunzeker, a 21-year Police Bureau veteran, of aiding and abetting the discrimination by both the city and the PPA. The lawsuit alleges that the union, Hunzeker, and Ottoman aimed to drive Hardesty out of City Hall.
Hardesty’s attorneys Matthew Ellis and Stephen Brischetto issued a statement. “Commissioner Hardesty’s advocacy for true police accountability and reform makes her Public Enemy No. 1 for many at the PPB and PPA,” they wrote. “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. In the spirit of transparency, accountability, and justice, we look forward to her day in court when she can tell her side of this story to a jury of her peers.”