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Mayor Ted Wheeler called for an independent investigation after Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty was falsely accused of being a suspect in a hit-and-run.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty participates in her first City Council meeting in 2019.Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler called for an independent investigation after damaging — and false — allegations naming Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty as a suspect in a hit-and-run were leaked to the public.

Hardesty mounted a full court press Thursday, March 4, after a local law-and-order group wrongly claimed that a license plate tied to the commissioner had appeared in a police report regarding a non-injury hit-and-run auto crash the day before.

"I've always said that we can disagree without being disagreeable," Hardesty said. "This kind of personal attack, based on false accusations that were perpetuated by elements of the media, is hurtful. When I have made mistakes in the past, I have owned it, taken responsibility and apologized. I hope those that brought this harm to me and my office today will feel compelled to do the same."

Mayor Wheeler agreed with Hardesty's demands for an investigation — calling on the city attorney and police chief Charles Lovell to expedite a "thorough, independent review of the facts" and preserve all records related to the incident.

It wasn't immediately clear how the police bureau, which is overseen by Wheeler, could conduct an independent review of itself, but more specifics are said to be forthcoming.

"What happened to Commissioner Hardesty is wrong and unacceptable," said the mayor. "It's a reflection of broader systemic racism and it must be addressed. We need to get to the bottom of it as soon as possible. No one should be subjected to false accusations publicly."

As Portland was wracked by protests intent on abolishing police, if not the state, last year, public officials perceived as being anti-law enforcement quickly learned that their own 911 calls were unlikely to stay under wraps.

Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt had his personal address disclosed by a pro-police website in November after he or his family apparently called police over concerns that conservative demonstrators were gathering outside their home.

News of Commissioners Hardesty's spat with a local ride-share driver landed on reporters' desks shortly after it happened last year as well.

Hardesty specifically criticized one local outlet for leaping on the story of the bogus hit-and-run, asking "how did this false information get leaked to the Oregonian and fringe right-wing media groups?"

The first version of the OregonLive story stated "a driver gave police a license plate of the car that struck her. Hardesty was listed as the suspect on a computer dispatch report," but those sentences disappeared after the article was rewritten later in the day.

As it turned out, the victim motorist told police the other driver was Hardesty, based apparently on the hit-and-run driver's appearance.

The Portland Police Association castigated Wheeler's priorities, noting that many traffic unit officers have already been shifted to patrol duties. Police union president Brian Hunzeker also recalled a false allegation by Hardesty that claimed police had set fires at protests, for which she later apologized.

"With the catastrophic and inadequate staffing at the Portland Police Bureau, it's unconscionable for the Mayor to prioritize a case of mistaken identity over the legitimate community concerns like nightly shootings, violence, arson, and vandalism," said Hunzeker.

Nevertheless, Wheeler vowed to get to the bottom of the matter.

"We need to meet our toughest critics' every test with a comprehensive, detailed and independent review," he said. "I deeply regret what Commissioner Hardesty experienced and I'm determined to find out what happened and to prevent it from happening again."


Zane Sparling
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