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Lawyers for Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty issued the tort complaint notice Aug. 2 following the minor car crash in March.

FILE - Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty in 2019. Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty will sue her own city — Portland — over the leak of bogus information that falsely linked her to a hit-and-run crash earlier this year.

In a new tort complaint, Hardesty says city employees rushed to leak the news that the crash victim believed, mistakenly, that she was hit by a vehicle with the commissioner behind the wheel — and that local cops assigned to the case subsequently planned to humiliate the elected official during a late-night "perp walk."

Hardesty's lawyers suspect that then-Portland Police Association union boss Brian Hunzeker leaked the erroneous 911 caller information to The Oregonian and right-wing media outlets. Hunzeker later resigned from his post at the union and has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, though officials have been coy about exactly why the patrol cop is under scrutiny.

The three-page tort complaint, filed Aug. 2 by attorneys Matthew C. Ellis and Stephen L. Brischetto, begins simply: "Black Lives Matter."

"Ms. Hardesty intends to stand up for her rights as a citizen," says the complaint, which was first reported by Willamette Week and later separately obtained by KOIN 6 News, the Tribune's media partner.

The compliant continues: "Had Ms. Hardesty not been a Black woman, and had she not sought to call out the (Portland Police Bureau) for longstanding racist practices for decades, these leaks would not have been wrongfully and recklessly disclosed with the purpose of forcing her out of office and maligning her reputation."

Willamette Week has also reported that three 911 call-takers at the Bureau of Emergency Communications have been suspended after sharing dispatch records regarding the false hit-and-run allegation with coworkers and calling them "juicy juicy."

The complaint alleges that local cops banged on Hardesty's door around 1 a.m. March 4, just hours after the late-afternoon crash that inflicted minor damage. The driver who was struck, Evelynn Starr Ellis, told police she was driving on a one-way stretch of East Burnside Street near 146th Avenue on March 3 when she was rear-ended.

Ellis, who is white, told police she thought the other driver looked like Commissioner Hardesty. But as the tort complaint notes, the two share few similarities other than the color of their skin. The Vancouver, Washington resident who was later charged with a misdemeanor for fleeing the crash, Shirley K. Collins, has much shorter hair than Commissioner Hardesty, the complaint says.

"The complainant's report that the driver was Ms. Hardesty was wrong, racially motivated and objectively unreasonable," it says. "The report was based on the false and racist assumption and stereotype that all Black people look the same and that Black people are more likely to engage in criminal activity."

The case against Collins, who told police she wasn't driving at the time of the incident, remains open. An arrest warrant was filed against Collins on March 12 by the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, but the case hasn't progressed since then.

In a statement to KOIN, Hardesty's lawyers said the elected official's push for police reform has made her a target, but no more.

"She is, for many within the Bureau and the PPA, Public Enemy No. 1," they wrote. "Yet, despite attempts to punish her for her advocacy and force her out of office in retribution for her tireless and effective advocacy, Commissioner Hardesty will not be silenced.  In the spirit of transparency, accountability, and justice, we look forward to her day in Court when she can tell her side of this story to a jury of her peers."


Zane Sparling
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