Former WLPD chief, two officers named in lawsuit
This story has been updated from its original version.
A Portland man has filed a lawsuit against the West Linn Police Department and three individual officers — including former Police Chief Terry Timeus — alleging that they illegally investigated him at his Portland workplace in a racially-motivated attempt to have him fired.
The plaintiff, an African-American man named Michael Fesser, alleged that in late 2016 the owner of the business where Fesser worked told Timeus — a close friend of his — that he was concerned Fesser would file a lawsuit against him regarding racial discrimination.
Timeus, according to the lawsuit, began an investigation of Fesser despite the fact that the business was outside of West Linn city limits. Two then-WLPD detectives — Tony Reeves and Mike Boyd — were put on the case at Timeus' request.
City Manager Eileen Stein and Chief Terry Krueger did not immediately return requests for comment.
Timeus retired from the department in October 2017, shortly after an outside investigator declined to pursue charges on allegations that he drove drunk. Boyd left the department in 2017, while Reeves remains with WLPD as a night shift sergeant.
"Acting on the basis of his personal friendship and not any concern about criminal activity in West Linn … Chief Timeus instructed Sgt. Reeves and Sgt. Boyd to investigate Mr. Fesser and to build a case that Mr. Fesser was involved in employee theft from Chief Timeus' friend's Portland business," Attorney Paul Buchanan, of Buchanan Angeli Altschul & Sullivan LLP, wrote in the lawsuit. "The investigation culminated in an unlawful, extra-jurisdictional and unwarranted surveillance operation in Portland at the business of Chief Timeus' friend."
According to documentation from the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, Fesser worked at A&B Towing, which is owned by Eric Benson and located in Southeast Portland. The document states that Fesser conducted sales during bi-monthly auto auctions and was responsible for turning in documentation of sales and payments to A&B. Benson, according to the document, noticed that his average sale prices were going down and in November 2016 he learned that someone had purchased a car for $1,540, but the sale was reported at $375.
Benson found another price discrepancy of $25 in February 2017, according to the document, and on Feb. 16, 2017 a witness stated that "he knew the defendant was stealing from A&B Towing."
Fesser's lawsuit asserts that Boyd and Reeves conducted illegal surveillance on Fesser while he was working, and that they also attempted to influence potential witnesses — despite labeling some of these individuals as "dirty, shady f*cks" in text messages that were discovered on Timeus' and Reeves' phones.
"Sgt. Reeves and Sgt. Boyd hoped they could get these individuals to provide statements or testimony to support the false claim that Mr. Fesser was stealing from Chief Timeus' friend's Portland business," Buchanan wrote. "In attempting to secure these statements, the West Linn defendants, upon information and belief, made multiple false assertions and suggestions to these individuals to cause them to believe that Mr. Fesser was engaged in employee theft from Chief Timeus' friend's business."
The surveillance — both audio and visual — took place Feb. 25, 2017, during an auction that was conducted by Fesser as part of his work duties. According to the lawsuit, Boyd and Reeves used an app called "SwannView," as well as assistance from civilians, to monitor Fesser in real-time while he was working.
"The surveillance operation did not result in any evidence of wrongdoing as Mr. Fesser was not engaging in any improper conduct," Buchanan wrote.
Text messages cited in the lawsuit depict conflicting feelings from Reeves during the surveillance operation. At one point, he wrote, "It's better that we arrest him before he makes the complaint (of race discrimination). Then it can't be retaliation." He also called one of the civilians involved in the operation a "p*ssy" when they expressed doubt about participating.
However, just before starting the operation, Reeves expressed doubts about it and also made references to Timeus' close relationship with the business owner.
Reeves also made several written comments directly to the business owner, according to the lawsuit, including "He is robbing you blind" and "Today his reign of terror ends."
Shortly after the auction Feb. 25, 2017, Reeves and Boyd enlisted Portland Police officers to help arrest Fesser as he was leaving work. Fesser's belongings were seized, and the officers said they planned to hack his cellphone, the lawsuit alleged.
The arrest and subsequent interrogation and imprisonment in a Portland jail cell lasted about eight hours, according to the lawsuit.
Several days later, Fesser was asked to come to the West Linn Police Department to get his belongings. There, Reeves and Boyd told him that he'd been fired from his company, where he had been employed for 12 years. He was also told not to have any contact with his former employer or return to the workplace.
"Mr. Fesser thought it was bizarre that West Linn police officers were empowered to summon him to West Linn and fire him from his job," Buchanan wrote.
That same day, Fesser appeared at Multnomah County Circuit Court and was informed that no charges were being filed against him. He was given a number to call to follow up on whether charges would be filed, and over the next several months his status remained unchanged.
"In the months following Mr. Fesser's arrest, upon information and belief, the West Linn Defendants conducted no further investigation into any alleged criminal activity regarding Mr. Fesser," Buchanan wrote. "The investigation and arrest had apparently served their intended purpose."
About seven months after the arrest, Fesser filed a lawsuit against his employer regarding his termination and racial discrimination. Shortly thereafter, according to Buchanan, the officers reopened their case and criminal charges were filed against Fesser in November 2017. On March 23, 2018, a judge dismissed the charges as part of a civil compromise, according to the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office.
"The apparent lack of activity by the West Linn Defendant and all other law enforcement personnel in the months immediately following Mr. Fesser's arrest, coupled with the apparent sudden renewed interest in the case following Mr. Fesser's filing of a lawsuit … underscores that the West Linn Defendants were acting on the bases of personal motivations in their efforts against Mr. Fesser, rather than any legitimate law enforcement concern," Buchanan wrote.
The lawsuit includes a total of 10 Claims for Relief, which cite everything from violations of Constitutional rights to false arrest, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation and illegal wiretapping. Fesser has asked for a jury trial and seeks damages of just over $2.5 million.
Read the full lawsuit here.