West Linn Police Chief's fatal Portland shootings in focus
In the month and half since news of the Michael Fesser-West Linn lawsuit settlement rattled the City, the pressure on the West Linn Police Department and its chief, Terry Kruger, has not let up.
At a meeting Monday, March 9, City Councilor Jules Walters suggested City officials consider placing Kruger on leave.
More recently, 20 concerned citizens turned up at a rally Saturday, March 14—despite a blanket of snow over much of the city and the COVID-19 outbreak, which has kept many people confined to their homes but for the most necessary excursions—to demand a resignation from Kruger, more oversight over the police department and an investigation into City Attorney Tim Ramis.
Kruger, the police department, and the City as a whole, have come under scrutiny for their handling of the case.
In fact, residents and journalists have begun highlighting other instances — alleged and proven — of misconduct, discrimination and corruption of West Linn officers, going back more than a decade.
"The more that I have focused my attention on Chief Kruger in recent days, the more concerned I am that he is absolutely the wrong person to be leading West Linn Police out of its current mess," Paul Buchanan recently told the Tidings. Buchanan represented Fesser, a black man from Portland, in his discrimination lawsuit against West Linn police.The lawsuit alleged that in 2017 WLPD officers illegally investigated and arrested him at work as a favor to then WLPD Chief Terry Timeus' friend, Eric Benson, who wasFesser's employer. Benson reportedly approached Timeus, concerned that Fesser was going to sue him for racial discrimination after Fesser complained of racism he encountered at work.
Fesser eventually did sue Benson and was awarded $400,000 in a settlement.
As part of the settlement with the City of West Linn, Fesser, his family and Buchanan met with numerous city officials including Kruger.
Buchanan said he was not impressed with Kruger at this meeting.
"Chief Kruger had some of the right things to say about being opposed to discrimination, however, he also focused a great deal on how difficult all this has been for him personally," Buchanan said. "I thought that was tone deaf and very much the wrong emphasis for this conversation with Mr. Fesser who was, of course, the actual victim of the police department's misconduct."
Buchanan and others have also pointed out that while he was with the Portland Police Bureau, Kruger shot and killed two people — one of them a young black man —when calling into question whether he should remain chief. PPB cleared Kruger of any wrongdoing in both on-duty shootings.
Other accusations of Kruger characterizing Sgt. Tony Reeves, who led the illegal investigation into Fesser, as a "victim" and of his own personal relationship with Benson have drawn serious criticism from the community.
Reeves, who used discriminatory language in text messages with Benson while investigating Fesser, was placed on paid leave by the department after Clackamas and Multnomah County district attorneys announced their own investigations into the Fesser case.
Emails obtained through a public records request also reveal that Kruger apparently had his own personal relationship with Benson. This relationship, the emails revealed, caused Kruger to recuse himself from participating in lawsuit proceedings when Fesser's case was filed.
The public's misgivings about Kruger, as well as the knowledge that the City failed to perform a background check when hiring Timeus, prompted the Tidings to make a request for the background check performed when Kruger was hired, as well as the application packet he submitted to the City. These records have not been released because the Tidings is in the process of appealing the city's requested $320 fee.
Additionally, the $600,000 recently paid to Fesser to settle his lawsuit is only one of several settlements paid in recent years because of complaints against the department.
Between 2014 and 2016, the City and its insurance agencies paid $667,000 to settle labor disputes with four different officers, according to records the Tidings recently obtained through a public records request.
In the six weeks since the City's insurance company paid Fesser the $600,000, over 50 stories about West Linn police have been published by media outlets throughout Oregon, including Pamplin Media, Oregonlive, Oregon Public Broadcasting, KPTV, KOIN, KGW, the Portland Mercury and more. The case has also made headlines across the country.
Kruger and the police department aren't the only ones taking heat for their handling of the case. At a city council meeting following news of the settlement, citizens from West Linn and beyond packed the council chambers to chastise not only the police department but city officials. Several who testified at that meeting called out the council and John Williams (who has served as interim city manager since January) for failing to hold the involved officers responsible.
Councilors, however, insisted that they did not know all of the facts of the case until the recent revelations in the media. Council President Teri Cummings, for instance, has mentioned multiple times that the council was unaware of the racist texts between Reeves and Benson, implying that if they had known about the messages, they might have taken more action on the matter.
Buchanan pointed out that the council knew a good deal about the case two years ago but did not express the same outrage they've shown in the past six weeks.
"You'd think even upon reading this story in the local newspaper, they would demand some kind of investigation to determine are those claims legitimate? Is there something to this here? Instead of just dispensing off to the insurance company and assuming it will get handled in some way and not trying to understand whether there's some broader problem that needs to be addressed," Buchanan said, referencing articles about the lawsuit published in the Tidings in 2018.
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