The city of Portland, Oregon, will pay thousands of dollars to former City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty to settle a portion of a lawsuit that accuses the city, police union, former union president, and a police officer of leaking information that falsely implicated Hardesty in a hit-and-run.
Hardesty, who was a strong advocate for defunding the police, was implicated in a March 2021 collision after a 911 caller mistakenly identified her as the driver who rear-ended her and fled the scene. An officer with the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) leaked the allegation to an activist friend who shared the information on a livestream, according to an internal review conducted last year.
Hardesty’s lawsuit, filed in late 2021, alleges that police union president Brian Hunzeker also leaked the allegation to a reporter. The suit claims the leaks are politically and racially motivated, KGW reported.
It wasn’t long before Hardesty was cleared of wrongdoing, and Hunzeker, who had only been on the job for a few months, resigned. The union cited a “serious, isolated mistake” related to the incident as the reason for Hunzeker’s resignation.
In 2020, Hardesty had been at the head of efforts to defund the police while social unrest rocked the city of Portland. She pushed heavily to reallocate tens of millions of dollars from the PPB’s budget.
Hardesty was forced to apologize in July 2020 after she claimed that police “saboteurs” and “provocateurs” were starting fires after infiltrating the crowds of demonstrators who took over Portland’s streets every night for months following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
In June 2021, she urged the city council to disband the police’s riot squad, calling it a “rogue paramilitary organization that is unaccountable to the elected officials and residents of Portland.”
Hardesty lost the 2022 election to political newcomer Rene Gonzalez, who ran as a centrist and openly supported law and order.
Last week, a lawyer for the city of Portland offered to settle the portion of the case targeting the city for $5,000 attorney’s fees and a signed apology from Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, KGW reported. Hardesty accepted.
“Portland Police Bureau employees acting outside the course and scope of their employment leaked confidential information about Commissioner Hardesty,” Wheeler’s letter reads. “The leaks negatively impacted Commissioner Hardesty’s public image and undermined her efforts to bring about police transformation and reform. The City does not condone these actions. On behalf of the City, I apologize for the conduct.”
Hardesty sought only $1 in nominal damages from the city, KGW reported. The city had spent more than $58,000 defending itself against the lawsuit since last May. However, the settlement doesn’t end the case, as Hardesty is still suing the Portland Police Association, Hunzeker and Officer Kerri Ottoman, which is scheduled to start in late September.
Hardesty sought $3 million from the police association, $1 million from Hunzeker and $1 million from Ottoman, according to local news reports.
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