Hardesty 'ruled out' as suspect in hit-and-run, police say
Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardsty forcibly denied allegations that she fled the scene of a car crash in Portland this week — and police agreed, saying she has been "ruled out" as a suspect.
In a hastily convened virtual press conference, Thursday, March 4, Hardesty told journalists she never left home on Wednesday and her Volkswagen Passat has been inoperable for about six months because of a defective door lock and dead battery.
"This is an attempt to make a story where no story exists," Hardesty said. "When you have taken on police accountability issues as long as I have, you come to expect these kinds of attacks. I've experienced them in the past, and I expect I will continue to experience them."
Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty denied claims she was involved in a hit-and-run, calling them "a smear campaign."— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) March 4, 2021
Says she never left home yesterday and her car is inoperable.
"It's my hope the Portland Police will vigorously investigate these false allegations." pic.twitter.com/r2xyF6bLng
In a statement, Sgt. Kevin Allen of the Portland Police Bureau said authorities are "aware of interest in a hit and run that allegedly occurred" on Wednesday, March 3, around 4:48 p.m. near the intersection of Southeast 148th Avenue and East Burnside Street. Hardesty noted that the March 3 City Council session did not end until shortly after 4 p.m., saying she does not live in the area of the apparent crash.
The bureau stated that they were dispatced to the 13300 block of Southeast Stark Street after receiving reports from a caller around 11:30 p.m. that night. While the victim reported seeing Hardesty behind the wheel, the commissioner and the complainant were notified that Hardesty is not a suspect in the ongoing traffic investigation by late Thursday.
Hardesty said she donated a car to Volunteers of America somewhat recently, and she "is not sure" whether the DMV still lists her as the registered owner. She was unable to immediately recall the make and model of the donated vehicle.
"After COVID happened, it became impossible to actually do the DMV transfer process. So it is very possible there is another automobile registered to me, however it is currently at the lot of Volunteers of America," Hardesty said.
Hardesty said she believed the "smear campaign" was seeking to impugn her credibility as the commissioner in charge of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, adding that she has become an "avid pedestrian" since the pandemic arrived one year ago.
"As you all know, I use Lyft when I'm going somewhere I can't walk, and let me just say how well that's been," said Hardesty, referencing a November dust-up where the commissioner called 911 after a disagreement with a ride-share driver picking her up from a local casino.
A spokeswoman for Hardesty, Matt McNally, told the Tribune that the commissioner "takes these accusations very seriously."
"She denies the accusation that she drove her vehicle in the last 24 hours, that she was involved in any vehicle accident and says she has not been contacted by the Portland Police Bureau regarding any such incident," McNally said.
The bogus allegations apparently came to light during a live-streamed video hosted by Jeff Reynolds, Angela Todd and Gabriel Johnson of the Coalition to Save Portland, a law-and-order organization that began calling for increased support of police during last year's slew of protests.
"According to an incident report, somebody reported her for rear-ending her car and leaving the scene," said Reynolds, a former chair of the Multnomah County Republican Party.
Todd said the person whose car was struck works as a public school teacher. Gabriel said the incident happened around 11 p.m. and referenced an incident number, though police have implied that whatever happened, happened earlier.
"We don't know how bad the accident was. We do know it was an non-injury accident," Gabriel said.
In a follow-up statement sent to the Tribune, the coalition members said they learned of the crash from law enforcement sources on the condition of anonymity. The statement incorrectly claimed that Hardesty was traveling in a late-model tan-colored sedan, possibly a Toyota Corolla, when she collided with the rear end of another vehicle.
"This is just another instance where Hardesty thinks she's above the law," said Johnson, co-founder of the group. "She's been trying to defund the police and turn Portland into an unlivable, lawless hellhole, and yet again she refuses to take responsibility for her actions."
Hardesty ended her press conference by calling for a full investigation by local police into the allegations. She said she didn't know why she was the subject of the now debunked rumors.
"Is it because I'm the first African American woman (on the City Council)? Is it because I'm leading the transforming of the Portland Police Bureau? Is it because I'm demanding accountability?" she asked. "I cannot answers these questions."
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