West Linn cop fired for wrongful arrest mulling lawsuit
Former West Linn Police Sgt. Tony Reeves issued a tort claim notice to the city of West Linn in October alleging he was wrongfully terminated from the city. No lawsuit from Reeves has been filed, though his attorney, Chris Mascal, said they had filed the tort notice to keep their options open.
"City is on notice that Reeves asserts that his termination was unfair, unprecedented and was merely asserted against him to shift blame and pacify the public regarding the bad press that the City received over Fesser's civil lawsuit(s)," the tort notice reads.
Reeves was fired by acting Police Chief Peter Mahuna in June after the Clackamas County District Attorney's Office recommended Reeves' license with the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) be revoked and stated that it would no longer hear testimony from Reeves.
The DA's office also found Reeves so compromised that it would conduct a secondary review of over 500 cases involving him.
The DA recommendations and actions came after it investigated WLPD's 2017 wrongful arrest of Michael Fesser. Reeves was the lead detective in the case against Fesser, a Black Portlander whose boss feared he would file a discrimination lawsuit against him.
Fesser's boss, Eric Benson, asked his friend, then-WLPD Chief Terry Timeus, to investigate Fesser even though the thefts Benson alleged Fesser committed took place in Portland.
During its investigation, the DA's office found several red flags with Reeves' conduct during the Fesser case, specifically racist text messages between Reeves and Benson, crucial information omitted in police reports, improper investigative practices that included unlawful recording, and disclosure of confidential attorney-client information.
These were noted among Mahuna's reasons for firing Reeves, though Mascal argued in the tort claim that they didn't amount to justification for such action. Mahuna also noted Reeves' deletion of the disturbing texts with Benson.
"City had no policy of requiring officers to save text messages. In fact, it is common for officers to routinely delete texts," Mascal wrote in the tort claim notice, which the Tidings obtained through a public records request. "As no such policy was in existence, City was wrong in terminating Reeves for not saving every text in every investigation he ever conducted, including this paramount case."
The tort notice also noted that in his investigation of Fesser, Reeves was following Timeus' orders.
The tort claim also suggested that it was unreasonable for the city to expect Reeves to vet Benson's dependability as a complainant.
"Officers must take people as they find them. Investigations often have complainants who are of questionable character. Addicts, felons, prostitutes, racists and sexists are not immune to also carrying the label of 'crime victim,'" the tort reads. "While some of the texts from the complainant were inappropriate with racial undertones, such sentiments did not negate that the complainant was a victim of theft from his employee."
The tort also argues that Reeves did not violate Fesser's attorney-client privilege because the letter Reeves obtained from Fesser's car and subsequently gave to Benson was addressed to Benson.
According to the Clackamas County DA report, the communications Reeves gave to Benson were addressed to Benson and sent by Fesser and his attorney. The report noted that Reeves knew the documents were privileged. Reeves failed to note that he seized these documents in his case report.
The tort notice claimed that Reeves decided how to handle these documents based on advice from Timeus.
"While this letter should have been mentioned in Reeves' final report, neglecting to do so is not grounds for dismissal," the tort reads.
In the tort notice, Mascal mentioned that Reeves already had been disciplined by WLPD in 2018 for his conduct in the Fesser case. A recently released independent investigative report found that this internal investigation of Reeves was "gap-riddled," resulting in the lowest level of formal discipline for Reeves.
"Reeves had already been reprimanded for this conduct and should not be subjected to additional sanctions two years hence," Mascal wrote.
Along with the tort claim notice, Reeves and his attorney also submitted to the city a preservation letter, asking the city to keep all materials that may be subject to discovery during a lawsuit.
The first sentence of the preservation letter obtained by the Tidings reads, "The purpose of this letter is to respectfully request that you take reasonable steps to preserve evidence relevant to Stuart Palmiter's Tort Claim Notice."
Mascal clarified that the naming of Palmiter in the letter was a typo which had been corrected with the city.
Mascal, a former Multnomah County prosecutor, said she was not aware of any involvement by the Clackamas County Peace Officers Association (the union representing officers in Clackamas County) in this case.
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