West Linn police: $600K to be paid in discrimination case
This story has been updated from its original version
The conversation around racism in the West Linn Police Department reignited this week when the City negotiated a $600,000 settlement with a Portland man who accused WLPD of conducting a racially-motivated scheme to get the man fired in 2016.
Michael Fesser, who is black, alleged in a 2016 lawsuit that WLPD conducted an illegal investigation of him at his job in Portland that resulted in him losing his job.
According to a statement from WLPD released Tuesday, Feb. 11, the City's insurance provider will pay the settlement.
"This settlement is not an admission of liability; it seeks to avoid additional expense, uncertainty, and drain on public resources," the statement read.
Though neither Fesser, nor his workplace (A&B Towing) had ties to West Linn, WLPD began its investigation when Fesser's boss, Eric Benson, came to his pal, then-WLPD Chief Terry Timeus, with complaints about Fesser.
Timeus retired from the department in October 2017 following allegations that he drove drunk.
Fesser told The Oregonian that he was called racist slurs at work and one co-worker asked him how he liked the confederate flag on a truck in the company's lot. Fesser complained about the hostile work environment to Benson, which, according to the lawsuit, prompted Benson to go to Timeus with concerns that Fesser would file a racial discrimination lawsuit against him.
Timeus then instructed former detective Mike Boyd and Sgt. Tony Reeves to investigate and construct a case regarding Fesser's supposed involvement in an employee theft scheme.
According to the lawsuit, Benson found price discrepancies in auto auction sales that he believed were the results of Fesser's supposed scheme.
With no cause other than their chief's instructions, the detectives began to use audio and video equipment to survey Fesser as he managed an auction for the towing company on Feb. 25, 2017.
Reeves and Boyd solicited help from Portland police and arrested Fesser shortly after the auction. Police seized Fesser's belongings and, according to the lawsuit, planned to hack his phone.
Though no charges were filed against him immediately after the arrest, and he was released eight hours later, Fesser was fired from A&B Towing after 12 years on the job. Fesser was not fired by Benson though; Boyd and Reeves informed him he was no longer employed by the towing company when they summoned him to the West Linn police station to collect his seized belongings.
Seven months after the arrest, Fesser filed the lawsuit against WLPD, alleging racial discriminationm, which resulted in his wrongful termination. He initially sought over $2.5 million in damages for violations of constitutional rights, false arrest, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation and illegal wiretapping.
"The surveillance operation did not result in any evidence of wrongdoing as Mr. Fesser was not engaging in any improper conduct," Paul Buchanan, Fesser's attorney, wrote in court documents.
According to Fesser's lawsuit, Reeves and Boyd 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.
WLPD's investigation of Fesser seemed to die down for several months after his arrest, but, shortly after the lawsuit was filed, 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.
In July of 2018, the lawsuit moved from the Multnomah County Circuit Court to the U.S. District Court in Portland.
"The City of West Linn and the West Linn Police Department do not tolerate any acts of discrimination or disparate treatment by its employees," Monday's statement from the department read. "In 2018, when the allegations were first reported, an internal investigation was conducted and swift and appropriate disciplinary personnel action was taken."
The statement also mentioned a commitment by the department to learn from its mistakes and to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion.
According to WLPD Captain Peter Mahuna, Reeves is still employed by WLPD and was disciplined for his involvement in the Fesser case. Mahuna did not comment on details of his discipline or whether the department will reopen its investigation of Reeeves' involvement in the case.
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