West Linn Police: City officials express outrage over scandal
West Linn city councilors have added their voices to the cries of shock and concern over the unlawful arrest of a black man from Portland by West Linn police three years ago.
West Linn residents, Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, and Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have all expressed outrage at the incident and called for investigations.
"I share our communities feelings of disgust and dismay over these past incidents and the impact it has brought to our community and to all communities," Mayor Russ Axelrod wrote on Facebook Friday, Feb. 14.
Also on Friday, the West Linn City Council submitted a letter to Billy Williams, U.S. state attorney for Oregon, urging the federal Department of Justice to open an investigation.
"We are committed to finding answers and join our community, state leaders, federal representatives, and our current Chief of Police in calling for a thorough outside review by the Department of Justice into the actions of the City of West Linn and the West Linn Police Department in this case," the letter reads.
The council also declared its "commitment to transparency and cooperation throughout the investigation process," adding, "It is our hope that by fully addressing the concerns of our community, we can begin to rebuild the trust that has been compromised by this case."
How it began
Michael Fesser, who is African American, alleged in a 2018 lawsuit that West Linn Police conducted an illegal investigation of him in 2016 at his job in Portland, which resulted in Fesser losing his job. Though neither Fesser, nor his workplace — A&B Towing — had ties to West Linn, the police department began its investigation when Fesser's boss, Eric Benson, came to his friend, then-Police Chief Terry Timeus, with complaints about Fesser. Benson allegedly feared Fesser was going to sue him for the racial harassment he faced at work.
Fesser, in fact, did sue Benson and was awarded $415,000, according to The Oregonian.
"Racism, cronyism and systemic discrimination should hold no place in West Linn. Black people deserve to feel safe and welcome in our community," Councilor Jules Walters wrote in her own statement on social media.
The Fesser case was not the first incident of racism amongst West Linn Police during the Timeus era.
In 2016, Officer Tom Newberry was dismissed after posting several comments on social media in which he suggested killing members of the Black Lives Matter movement. When he filed a complaint for wrongful dismissal, an arbitrator found he was entitled to backpay because superior officers, including Timeus, knew of his racist comments, and even "liked" some of them.
"That's not the views of the West Linn Police, it's not my personal views," Timeus said of Newberry's posts at the time. "And I take offense to anybody inferring that people don't have the right to protest, and derogatory statements against any movement or race."
Newberry's posts prompted West Linn citizens of color to come forward with stories of racial profiling by West Linn Police at an August 2016 City Council meeting.
"We take any allegations of racial profiling — or any type of discrimination — we take that very serious; it's not condoned in our profession," Timeus said in response to those stories.
The former chief also mentioned the training officers receive about cultural diversity.
But since details of the wrongful arrest settlement hit the national media last week, the police department has announced that the only officer still on the force connected to the incident, Sgt. Tony Reeves (formerly Poitras), has been placed on paid administrative leave. Capt. Peter Mahuna of the police department said Tuesday, Feb. 11, that Reeves had been disciplined previously by the department for his involvement in the investigation, but declined to comment on the nature of the discipline.
Timeus left the department in 2017 after he faced allegations of drunken driving, and received a payout of $123,394.
Former Detective Mike Boyd, who worked with Reeves to unlawfully investigate Fesser, left the department in 2017. Boyd went on to work as a detective for the Molalla Police Department and retired last year.
Former Lt. Mike Stradley, who got Portland Police officers to help with the arrest of Fesser by saying he was a "gang associate," is now employed as a skills manager with the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards And Training, where most police officers and sheriff's deputies throughout the state receive their training.
According to reporting by The Oregonian, he also has been placed on leave.
Fallout in the community
Reactions by the community to the initial reporting of the lawsuit in 2018 was subdued compared to the outcry seen since the settlement.
"All of this had happened at the same time Chief Timeus was running into trouble that there was stuff going on with Officer Newberry, but this one really made my jaw drop," West Linn resident Abby Farber said.
"Quite honestly, it faded from my memory, which I don't look kindly at myself about," Farber said. "I look at that, and think, 'I should have done something about this then and been a lot noisier about this whole thing and made sure that anybody in anyway involved in this, were off the force immediately. It faded away from memory. We all shouldn't have let it fade from memory."
Mayor Axelrod addressed the crisis on Facebook. "As soon as facts about the matter came to light over two years ago, the City took action to change the culture of the WL Police Dept," he wrote. "The City brought in a new Chief (Chief Kruger) for the specific purpose of rebuilding and changing the culture of our Police Dept."
A number of residents are expected to comment on the case at the council's coming special meeting, Tuesday, Feb.18, where — though it is not on the official agenda — councilors are expected to discuss the case.
Dana Haynes contributed to this article.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.