County DA: West Linn Police handling of Fesser case 'deeply disturbing'
Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote sent a report to the city of West Linn Friday, May 29, citing "deeply disturbing" misconduct by West Linn police officers involved in the investigation and arrest of Michael Fesser.
He also recommended that both former WLPD chief Terry Timeus and Detective Tony Reeves should have their certifications from the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training revoked.
According to the report — which specifically focused on violations of Brady V. Maryland, a 1963 case ruling that prosecutors must disclose information which may be favorable to the defendant — the DA's office found Detective Tony Reeves so compromised that it would conduct a secondary review of over 500 cases involving him.
In 2017, West Linn Police arrested Michael Fesser, a black man from Portland, as a favor to Fesser's boss, a friend of then-West Linn Police Chief Terry Timeus.
Fesser, who had complained to his boss at A&B Towing, Eric Benson, of racial discrimination he faced at work, went on to sue both Benson and WLPD. In the two separate lawsuits, Fesser was eventually awarded over $1 million.
The West Linn Police Department has been embroiled in scandal since new details of the arrest emerged in February, as the city's insurance provider paid Fesser a $600,000 settlement.
Investigations into the matter were launched by the Clackamas County DA, Multnomah County DA, the Oregon Department of of Public Safety Standards and Training and the United States Department of Justice. The city is also paying $50,000 for a separate independent investigation.
In the newly released report, the DA's office found fault in both Timeus' and Reeves' handling of the case. Specifically, the report detailed 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.
The report also found that it was improper for West Linn Police to conduct the investigation and arrest outside of its jurisdiction (Fesser was investigated and arrested at and just outside A&B Towing in Southeast Portland) without giving any reason.
"In the course of this review, it was determined this investigation was replete with inappropriate and offensive investigative tactics, and lacked transparency, honesty and any sense of fair play," the report states.
Because Timeus retired following a drunk driving scandal in 2018, the DA's office notes that its actions regarding his conduct were mostly "symbolic." The office said it would recommend that his certification from the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training be revoked.
Reeves, who has been on leave since news of the settlement rattled West Linn in February, should also have his certification revoked, according to the report.
In addition, the DA's office is closely reviewing 40 active criminal cases which involved Reeves.
"Any case that cannot be proven without his testimony will be dismissed," the report states. "Information about these cases will be released after proper notification has been made to defense counsel and any victim that may be impacted."
The report also notes that the office will review 500 closed cases where Reeves played a role.
"That will result in cases he has submitted to this office being dismissed or compromised," the DA's letter to the city states. "Unfortunately, that will negatively impact the citizens of West Linn and victims in these cases. Moving forward, it means that Detective Reeves will no longer be accepted as witness in cases submitted to our office."
The DA's report also included review of Detective Mike Boyd and Lt.t Mike Stradley, who also played a role in the arrest of Fesser.
Regarding Stradley, the report states that the DA's office will save final assessment of his role in the case pending an investigation from the city of Portland's Independent Police Review. During the investigation and arrest of Fesser, Stradley's main role was coordinating with the Portland Police Bureau. Stradley left WLPD in 2018 and was placed on leave by the DPSST, where he was working as a supervisor of new recruits, in February.
The report noted that it did not find any Brady violations by Boyd, though it would present the information in the report to the defense in any case where he serves as a witness.
"We greatly appreciate the extensive work of Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote and his staff in reviewing this case. An independent external review of this matter is critically important to our community's efforts to move forward," Interim City Manager John Williams said in a press statement about the report. "The District Attorney's report contains findings of serious misconduct that is inconsistent with the West Linn Police Department and City of West Linn's mission and values. Legal counsel and City Management will be reviewing the information received and will take a prompt and appropriate response to this development."
Acting Police Chief Peter Mahuna responded to the report with a press statement of his own, saying that Reeves has the right to due process, which the "City of West Linn and the Police Department intend to strictly follow."
"I firmly believe the West Linn Police Department will become a better and more professional police department as a result of this investigation and the others still underway," Mahuna's statement continues. "We have a long way to go in earning back the confidence and public trust we've lost."
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