Independent investigation of Fesser case expected to end later this month
Independent investigators with the OIR Group expect to wrap up their report on how the City of West Linn handled the Michael Fesser tort claim later this month.
In April, the city hired OIR Group — a California-based firm that has conducted a number of investigations into Portland Police Bureau-involved shootings and in-custody deaths, as well as a 2018 review of practices and policies of the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office — to investigate the city's actions and policies surrounding Fesser's racial discrimination and unlawful arrest lawsuit.
Shortly after the city decided to launch the independent investigation, it announced it would place current Police Chief Terry Kruger on paid administrative leave for the duration of the investigation.
Each month since April, the city has paid $17,950 for the combined monthly salary and benefits of the on-leave chief. In total, the city has paid $107,700 for Kruger in the past six months.
"Administrative leave ensures that all parties have the opportunity to clearly and completely answer questions and explain their actions. It is not a determination of wrongdoing on the
part of Chief Kruger or anyone else," an April statement from the city read. "Any such determination can only be made after the investigation is complete."
The lawsuit began in 2018 when Fesser, a Black man from Portland, issued the city a tort claim alleging racial discrimination after he was wrongfully investigated and falsely arrested by WLPD in 2017.
WLPD investigated and arrested Fesser at the behest of then-Chief Terry Timeus, a friend of Fesser's boss, Eric Benson, to whom Fesser had complained about racial discrimination he faced at work. Benson feared Fesser was going to file a lawsuit against him and his tow company regarding the racism.
Though the main premise of Fesser's lawsuit was publicly known in 2018, new revelations that came to light in February after the city paid Fesser a $600,000 settlement caused shock and outrage among West Linn residents and even state and federal officials.
Since February, members of the police department, including Kruger — who began serving in West Linn the same day Fesser's tort claim was filed — and other high-ranking WLPD officers, members of City Council, former city manager Eileen Stein and the city's insurance provider have all come under fire for their handling of the case.
OIR investigator Michael Gennaco said he and his colleague Robert Miller were examining how each of these people and groups handled the case.
Gennaco said he could not comment on the investigation's findings while it was still pending.
The city's contract with OIR group stipulates that Genacco and Miller would be paid $200 hourly for their work. The contract states that the total investigation was expected to cost around $12,000 but not to exceed $50,000. Genacco said OIR Group had not yet submitted billing to the city and opted not to provide a guess as to how many hours he had worked on the investigation.
The Department of Justice and FBI also are investigating the city's handling of the Fesser case, though there is no current timeframe for when the investigation may wrap up.
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