West Linn police chief shirks criticism in letter to interim city manager
Terry Kruger, West Linn's chief of police, who is currently on paid administrative leave amid calls for the city to terminate his employment, defended his actions throughout the Michael Fesser lawsuit and claimed press reports mischaracterized the facts of his involvement.
In a July 9 letter to Interim City Manager John Williams, Kruger said he wanted to "set the record straight," and expressed hope that he would soon be back at work leading WLPD.
Kruger was placed on administrative leave in April following calls for his dismissal in the wake of a scandal that garnered national headlines. The saga began in February when the city settled a lawsuit with Fesser, a Black Portland man falsely arrested by WLPD in 2017 following an illegal and racially-motivated investigation.
A citizen obtained Kruger's letter through a public records request and then shared it with the Tidings, as well as on social media.
In the letter to Williams, Kruger attempted to explain his actions throughout the lawsuit including why he recused himself from the initial internal investigation of Fesser's arrest when he informed city officials of his recusal and what he knew at the time of two city council executive sessions where the lawsuit was discussed. He also claimed that media reports of his remarks about WLPD Sgt. Tony Reeves being a "victim," were taken out of context.
Kruger wrote that on his first day at WLPD, June 4, 2018, he received the tort claim notice from Fesser's lawyer.
"I recognized Mr. (Eric) Benson's name as someone I had casually known years before," Kruger wrote.
WLPD's investigation into Fesser began when Eric Benson, Fesser's boss, told then-WLPD Chief Terry Timeus he believed Fesser was stealing from his business, A&B Towing. Benson, who lives in West Linn and was friends with Timeus, went to WLPD after Fesser said he faced racial discrimination on the job.
To distance himself from the case, Kruger assigned Captain Neil Hennelly to investigate Fesser's allegations in the tort claim. Hennelly had served as acting chief before Kruger's appointment.
In a footnote in the letter, Kruger wrote that he knew Benson from a mutual family friend.
"Occasionally, our families socialized together around the Stonekings (the family friends), the dads and sons enjoying fishing trips, and a camping trip attended by many families," the footnote read." As of June 2018, I had had no social activity with Mr. Benson for approximately two years."
Kruger claimed he recused himself from the internal investigation process because of his associations with Benson and Timeus. He stated he did not want it to appear that the investigation lacked integrity, and that he had "some familiarity" with Timeus.
According to Kruger, he informed then-City Manager Eileen Stein about his decision to recuse himself from the investigation the same week. However, he did not state if he explained his reasoning for the decision.
Kruger then recounted that in June, Hennelly emailed the city attorney, city labor attorneys and the city insurer notifying them of Kruger's recusal and stating that he would lead the investigation. Again, Kruger's letter did not mention if any reason was stated explaining the recusal.
Hennelly eventually appointed then-Lt. Oddis Rollins to conduct interviews and gather documents for the investigation.
Kruger said he kept clear of the investigation process and only occasionally inquired about its progress and when it may finish.
"I had then and continue today to have a high regard for Neil Hennelly and now Captain Oddis Rollins," he wrote.
Despite this praise, Kruger seemed to cast doubt on Hennelly and Rollins' findings in the investigation later in the letter.
Kruger wrote that Hennelly and Rollins told him they found Sgt. Tony Reeves (the lead detective in the Fesser arrest) established probable cause to believe Fesser embezzled money from the tow company. He also claimed the investigation found the arrest was lawful, and no WLPD officers conducted illegal surveillance during the investigation of Fesser.
Kruger said the investigating officers informed him of Reeves' reprimands for inappropriate language (text messages revealed in the lawsuit show racist, sexist and homophobic banter between Reeves and Benson while they discussed the investigation of Fesser), failing to document property seized and mishandling a suspect's money (Reeves kept Fesser's phone and other belongings at his desk, rather than logging them as evidence).
"AL (Acting Lieutenant) Rollins told me he chose not to additionally reprimand Sergeant Reeves for violating WLPD policies prohibiting the use of racist language while on duty, because Reeves's texts, as offensive as they were, were not racist in his opinion," Kruger wrote. "The racist texts were all authored by Mr. Benson, not Sergeant Reeves, according to AL Rollins. AL Rollins also told me that the lack of depth he found in Sgt. Reeves's investigation of Mr. Fesser was not uncommon under the leadership of Chief Timeus."
Because of his recusal from the investigation, Kruger said he was unable to do anything about the texts, "but I strengthened my resolve to make sure that this sort of misconduct would not occur again."
Kruger's letter maintained that he was involved as little as possible throughout the lawsuit.
"The limited activities I undertook to assist the City during the course of the lawsuit were all requested of me by the City Manager, City Attorney, or Mr. Campbell (an attorney for the city's insurance provider)," he wrote. "I did not ask for them. All were aware that I had recused myself from WLPD's internal investigation."
Kruger wrote his only involvement throughout the lawsuit process was attending two executive sessions with City Council and attorneys, and assuring materials for discovery as part of the legal process were provided to necessary parties. He also said he was only copied on emails about the lawsuit to be kept in the loop.
"The City Manager told me to accompany her to executive sessions of the council after Mr. Fesser filed his lawsuit, though I reminded her of my recusal from WLPD's inquiry into the tort claim notice," he wrote.
Over the past several months, city councilors have stated they didn't know the most damning details of the case, such as Reeves' offensive texts, because Kruger failed to reveal them during executive sessions.
Of the Sept. 4, 2018 exec session, Kruger wrote that he agreed with the city attorney's characterization of the case based on what he knew from the findings of Hennelly and Rollins.
"Not being a lawyer, I was in no position to offer an opinion on the merits of the lawsuit," he adds.
He then quoted himself explaining to the council why it was legal "but not ideal" for WLPD to leave jurisdiction to arrest Fesser in Portland.
"At the time, I had no reason to doubt what I had been told (by Hennelly and Rollins), and because of my recusal had made no independent investigation of those things," the letter continued. "My belief in the truth of these facts was only reinforced by the City's lawyers before and at the next meeting I was told to attend on February 19, 2019."
The letter went on to defend Kruger's statements at the February executive session, saying his opinions of the case were consistent with what the city's attorneys said at the meeting, and in line with what he knew from the internal investigation by Hennelly and Rollins.
"What most disturbs me about press accounts gratuitously mischaracterizing those remarks as a 'vigorous defense' of my department, is that they unfairly imply that at the time I made them I somehow knew otherwise, or that I was aware of other facts that, when placed in context, would cast doubt on those I learned from WLPD's internal investigation," Kruger wrote. "That was not the case and the information that emerged afterward was all unknown to me at that time."
He did not specify here what information that later emerged he was referring to, though later in the letter he expressed surprise at revelations made during the course of the lawsuit.
Kruger said he first learned of concerns about the WLPD internal investigation at a meeting with Campbell, the attorney for the city's insurance provider, in early 2020 after learning the city decided to settle the suit for $600,000.
Kruger said he was taken aback to learn that the lawsuit wasn't playing out as the city's attorneys foresaw in council executive sessions.
Kruger wrote he was also surprised to learn "that deposition testimony contradicted statements made by and about Sgt. Reeves during the internal investigation. Additionally, I was told that the Clackamas County District Attorney's Office now had concerns that Sgt. Reeves may have committed Brady violations. Taken together, this new information required me to take immediate action."
The letter did not state what this immediate action was, though it could be a reference to the decision to place Reeves on paid administrative leave following the CCDA's announcement of the Brady investigation.
Kruger explained his decision to place Reeves on leave "was based on a much greater amount of information now available for review that was not available during the WLPD's internal investigation as a result of nearly 18 months of civil litigation."
Lastly, the letter defended statements Kruger made portraying Reeves as a "victim" for the treatment he received in the press. According to witness accounts, Kruger called Reeves a victim at a roll call meeting in February.
"Press accounts have completely taken out of context a remark I made at Roll Call on the day that I put Sergeant Reeves on administrative leave," Kruger wrote.
In explaining his comments, Kruger added that Reeves' placement on leave came at a stressful time for his family and noted the high suicide rates of police officers.
"When I spoke at Roll Call that day and announced my decision to put Sergeant Reeves on administrative leave, I reminded everyone to keep him and his family in their thoughts and prayers because of his situation at home," he wrote. "My intention was not to draw any conclusions whatsoever about the impending investigation of him, but only to suggest his fellow officers consider reaching out during a stressful time for Sgt. Reeves' family if they were so inclined."
Overall, Kruger denied any fault in his handling of the lawsuit.
"I know that I acted openly and with integrity, always striving to do (the) right thing based on information given me," he wrote. "The sheer volume of information available now, coupled with careless accusations, misinformation and media coverage, unjustly cloud the issues and conceals the truth."
Kruger added he was committed to making WLPD a professional law enforcement agency.
"What happened to Mr. Fesser at the hands of my department before I arrived is abhorrent to me," the letter read. "It is my hope that I will be allowed to return to my job and continue the many positive changes I have initiated within the WLPD."
Kruger is still on leave pending results from an investigation by the OIR group into the city's handling of the lawsuit. As of yet, there is no time frame for the completion of the investigation.
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