Community expresses outrage at West Linn police
Do more. Be better.
These were among the many feelings expressed at the Tuesday, Feb. 18, West Linn City Council meeting regarding that police department's wrongful arrest of a black man in 2017.
City officials, including a visibly emotional Mayor Russ Axelrod, gave a statements of apology. After, they laid out steps already taken and to be taken by the city of West Linn, community members expressed outrage at the police department and city officials that allowed West Linn officers to arrest the man, Michael Fesser, based on fears that he would file a racial discrimination lawsuit against his boss, a friend of former West Linn Police Chief Terry Timeus.
David Goldstein called the incident, which has been reported around the nation in the past week, West Linn's "Chernobyl."
Other residents mentioned years of fear toward West Linn police and the "gestapo"-type tactics used by police in the arrest of Fesser.
During public comments, some residents called for the resignation of current West Linn Police Chief Terry Kruger for failing to take action on the police members involved in the Fesser case who were still on the force when he was appointed in 2018.
Tre Hester said council members should resign in disgrace for not holding their police department accountable.
Though the department's wrongful arrest of Fesser was first reported by the Pamplin Media Group newspapers in 2018, when Fesser filed his lawsuit, the story gained traction last week when the city's insurance provider paid a $600,000 settlement to Fesser.
Since then, local, state and federal officials have called for investigations into the department's handling of the Fesser case.
In his statement, Axelrod apologized to Fesser for the "inexcusable racism and abuse of power at the hands of members of our police department."
The mayor also mentioned the letter the city council sent last week to U.S. Attorney Billy Williams asking for a federal Department of Justice investigation into the matter.
During Tuesday's meeting, the council approved another independent investigation. This came at the request of Council President Teri Cummings, who said they don't know how long the DOJ's investigation will take, but she doesn't want to wait years for more information.
Seeming to sense the rebuke that was to come from citizens regarding the council's inaction on this matter when they first learned about it, Axelrod said the council's hands were tied on this matter by the city charter.
"Our city's vote-adopted charter bars the City Council from getting involved in personnel decisions, including termination and discipline," he said.
In the middle of the council's discussion, West Linn resident Abby Farber interjected with disagreements to Axelrod's read of the charter.
Farber pointed to the 2017 charter amendment that authorized city councilors to provide input to the city manager on employee or department performance.
Cummings clarified that she feels the council's hands were not tied by the charter so much as an oppressive management style that did not allow for input from councilors.
"It feels like there is more flexibility (in the charter). It's still kind of squishy. I kind of think there is the need for a non-interference clause because I wouldn't want to necessarily be in a city where people thought they could just tell the city manager to hire or fire anyone," Cummings said. "I think it's really a matter of style ... when a city councilor tells the city manager what they've been told, there needs to be kind of a mutual understanding between them that they're not doing that to tell the city manager what to do."
Cummings also clarified that the council knew about the lawsuit in 2018, having read articles in the PMG papers, including the West Linn Tidings, which provided some detail of the case.
"However, there were things that have come out recently that we had yet to know," Cummings said.
According to the council president, she tried to learn details of a 2008 investigation into Timeus when she joined the council in 2009.
The investigation, which concerns allegations of racism and sexism by Timeus while he worked for the Lake Oswego Police Department, was sealed by former City Manager Chris Jordan.
Cummings said the city attorney told her that someone would have to talk to Timeus before the investigation was unsealed. Cummings said she is still hoping for this investigation to be released as soon as possible.
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