Man who touted false Hardesty claim faces criminal charge
The man who publicized a police report that inaccurately named Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty as the perpetrator in a minor alleged hit-and-run is himself facing criminal charges in Washington County — to which he has pleaded not guilty.
Gabriel J. Johnson, 49, has gained prominence over the last year as a flag-waving critic of violent protests downtown. He cofounded a group called Coalition to Save Portland last fall.
On March 4, in a live video broadcast with two other members of the Save Portland group, Johnson read aloud what he said was the number of the police report naming Hardesty in a hit-and-run.
"This has definitely been verified," Johnson said in the broadcast. "This did happen. She's currently a suspect in this hit-and-run. … Let's see if the local news picks it up, because I'm sure we'll see it on the national news."
The news coverage, however, has come to focus on Johnson, who said he obtained the report from a police employee.
Hardesty immediately denied involvement in the alleged collision, and the Portland Police quickly backed her, saying she had formally been ruled out as a suspect in the alleged hit-and-run.
At the time of the alleged accident, Hardesty had only recently finished a City Council meeting and was nowhere near the scene, according to news accounts.
Questions were quickly raised about who leaked the report and why, and police bureau leadership has launched an internal investigation to find out.
Lawyer: Johnson has 'presumption of innocence'
Johnson has been facing his own situation involving police. On Feb. 11, he was indicted by a criminal grand jury in Washington County for an allegation of aggravated theft.
Asked about the case, Johnson said he could not comment, referring questions to his attorney. "I'm not at liberty to talk about something that is ongoing," Johnson said. "I don't have anything to hide. I'm not saying that I'm perfect. But what I will say is that my love and my passion for the city that we live in is definitely strong. And that doesn't change. That's unwavering."
Johnson's lawyer, Brett Hall, noted that the trial scheduled for last month was canceled due to COVID-19, although the case remains open.
"Other than the fact that he has entered a not guilty plea, has the presumption of innocence and is awaiting a court date, it would be inappropriate for me to make any other comments regarding Mr. Johnson's case," Hall said.
Filed by prosecutors in Washington County Circuit Court, the indictment claims "the defendant, on or between March 1, 2019, and September 30, 2019 … did unlawfully commit theft of property, of the total value of $10,000 or more … the State further alleges that the amount of loss caused by the defendant was more than $50,000."
The indictment does not go into detail about the alleged crime or identify the victim. However, the names of several witnesses listed on the grand jury indictment are identical to those of several current or former employees of a Hillsboro high-tech company, Q5id, where Johnson served as director of information technology from April to September of 2019, according to Linkedin.
The Washington County Sheriff's Office, which booked Johnson on Feb. 12, confirmed that the case was investigated by the Hillsboro Police Department. A court document says that a condition of Johnson's release from jail was to have "no contact with info tech software business."
A representative of Q5id did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A Hardesty staffer declined to comment, saying the commissioner was unaware of the Washington County case.
Johnson plans nonprofit
Johnson, for his part, said he doesn't know the person who filed the report naming Hardesty. He called the suggestion that he was part of a coordinated right-wing smear "outrageous."
"We were purely reporting on an incident report that I received, and that's it," Johnson said.
Formed as a political action committee, his group has more than 2,000 members, Johnson said. He hopes to soon apply to become a nonprofit, which he noted will allow donors to remain secret.
"Once we've become a nonprofit, I'm sure that we'll probably start to see a lot more money," he said.
"We're pro-livability, we're pro-public safety. And we love the city of Portland; we want to see it come back to being a place that's desirable," Johnson said.
He said he doesn't regret having publicized the police report that named Hardesty, saying that scrutiny of public officials is important.
"I have no regrets. ... When you're elected to public office, we hold you to a higher standard than the average citizen," he said.
Despite Hardesty being ruled out as a suspect, Johnson said he takes exception to characterizations that the report he publicized is false. That is unfair to whoever filed it, he said.
"You can't call it false, because if it was a false report that was made, the lady who made the report would be charged with filing a false police report," he said. "So I would say be careful with the verbiage."
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