PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has filed a lawsuit against the Portland Police Association (PPA) — the union that represents Portland Police Bureau (PPB) staff — along with the union's former president Brian Hunzeker and PPB officer Kerri Ottoman, alleging they leaked information that falsely identified Hardesty as a suspect in a hit-and-run accident in March.
Hardesty seeks $3 million from the association and $1 million each from Hunzeker and Ottoman. The city of Portland is also named as a defendant, although the lawsuit seeks only a single dollar from the city along with a declaration that the city violated Hardesty's rights to freedom from racial discrimination.
"Commissioner Hardesty’s advocacy for true police accountability and reform makes her Public Enemy No. 1 for many at the PPB and PPA," Hardesty's attorneys Matthew Ellis and Stephen Brischetto said in a statement. "Yet, despite attempts to punish her for her advocacy and force her out of office in retribution for her tireless and effective advocacy, Commissioner Hardesty will not be silenced. In the spirit of transparency, accountability, and justice, we look forward to her day in court when she can tell her side of this story to a jury of her peers."
The lawsuit stems from a March 3 incident in which a woman called police to report a minor car accident and incorrectly identified the other driver as Hardesty, accusing her of hit-and-run.
Information about the accident and Hardesty's supposed involvement was leaked to a group called the Coalition to Save Portland, which reported it publicly in a Facebook live video the following morning. It was also leaked to The Oregonian/OregonLive, which ran a story about the incident. The false information about Hardesty's involvement spread quickly on right-wing media.
Hardesty held a press conference a few hours later and denounced the allegations as a smear campaign. She said she had been at home at the time and her car was inoperable. Later that day, the Portland Police Bureau released a statement clearing Hardesty of any involvement.
Hunzeker abruptly resigned a little more than a week later over what the union's board described as a “serious, isolated mistake related to the police bureau’s investigation into the alleged hit-and-run by Commissioner Hardesty," although the statement did not specify exactly what Hunzeker did.
Hardesty indicated in August that she was planning to pursue legal action against the police association and the city.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in Multnomah County Circuit Court, alleges that an employee at the city's Bureau of Emergency Communications passed information about the hit-and-run call to her colleagues and other city employees.
It alleges that Hunzeker leaked the information to The Oregonian/OregonLive later that day or the following morning, and that Ottoman leaked it to one of the founders of the Coalition to Save Portland.
The leaks were "made because of race and in retaliation for [Hardesty]’s years of opposing race discrimination by the PPB and members of the PPA," the lawsuit states, and the leakers either knew the information was false or acted "with reckless disregard of whether the statements were false or not."