PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has fired Officer Brian Hunzeker, former president of the Portland Police Association (PPA), nearly one year after he leaked information falsely identifying Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty as a hit-and-run suspect, the mayor announced Tuesday.
Willamette Week was first to report that Hunzeker received a termination letter from Mayor Wheeler and Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell on Feb. 28.
"Real police reform requires community-oriented, hard-working, evidence-based, and fairminded staff ... Police reform also means calling out actions that fail to meet these standards of public service," the mayor said in a statement Tuesday.
The city began investigating Hunzeker after he reportedly sent information from a police report to a local news outlet regarding a hit-and-run incident at Southeast 148th Avenue and East Burnside Street on March 3, 2021.
According to the report, the victim said she thought the woman who hit her looked like Hardesty. That information was released to the media days after Hardesty was ruled out as a suspect.
"When you have taken on police accountability issues as long as I have, you come to expect these kinds of attacks," Hardesty said following the leak. "This is a normal tactic used to discredit people."
Hardesty added that her car did not leave the driveway on the day of the hit-and-run, which police later confirmed to be true.
In October 2021, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) sent a letter to Commissioner Hardesty informing her that an internal affairs investigation found Hunzeker did, in fact, share confidential information to the media, and that he did it in response to Hardesty's negative comments about PPB officers.
“There were many reasons Officer Hunzeker cited as the driving factors for why he shared the information and one of those factors, he admits, was in response to Commissioner Hardesty’s false allegation about officers setting fires during the civil unrest," the letter said.
The investigation also found Officers Kerri Ottoman and Ken Le were responsible for leaking false information about Hardesty in regard to the hit-and-run investigation. It's unclear if they will be facing disciplinary action.
Hardesty filed a lawsuit in December seeking a total of about $5 million in damages from the PPA, along with Hunzeker and Ottoman.
The PPA issued out a statement defending Hunzeker following his termination. The investigation describes Hunzeker as having a decorated career with no history of discipline in his nearly 22 years of service with PPB.
"He has owned his mistake and held himself accountable by stepping down as union president," the PPA said, adding "In firing Officer Hunzeker, the City has inappropriately turned accountability into punitive sanctions. That is a step too far; one that is unsupported by facts, reason, and objectivity.
The union said it's actively reviewing how to "remedy this mistake by the City."
Read the full statement from Mayor Wheeler regarding his decision:
Real police reform requires community-oriented, hard-working, evidence-based, and fairminded staff. Portland has many police staff who meet and exceed these public service values. These are the kind of officers and public safety specialists I want to recruit, support, and promote.
Police reform also means calling out actions that fail to meet these standards of public service.
Portland Police Officer Brian Hunzeker accessed a confidential record, reproduced the information using his mobile phone, and sent it to a news media outlet without authorization. This reproduction and release of information to the media was a violation of policy.
As the investigation determined, Officer Hunzeker’s actions also amounted to retaliation against a democratically elected member of the City Council due to her criticisms of the police bureau. Officer Hunzeker’s actions harmed Commissioner Hardesty and harmed the community’s trust in the Police Bureau.
As Police Commissioner, on behalf of the bureau, I want to apologize to Commissioner Hardesty for Officer Hunzeker’s actions. I support and have a great deal of respect for Chief Lovell and his work.
We agreed on the gravity of these policy violations – but we disagreed on the level of discipline to impose.
Today, I have terminated Officer Hunzeker’s employment with Police Bureau.