2/3/23 News Update


<<Brian Hunzeker, the Portland police officer responsible for leaking false information linking former city commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty to a 2021 hit-and-run, has been reinstated to his position with the Portland Police Bureau (PPB). While Hunzeker was originally fired in March 2022 for his involvement in the leak, a labor arbitrator from the Oregon Employee Relations Board found that Hunzeker’s actions did not warrant termination.

“The Arbitrator does not believe that reinstating a meritorious police officer does harm to the City as a whole or to any specific community within the City,” arbitrator Timothy Williams’ report states. “There is every reason to believe that [Hunzeker] will again provide quality police services that are vital to any large city. That clearly is in the public interest.”

In March 2021, the Oregonian reported that then-city commissioner Hardesty was named a suspect in a police investigation of a hit-and-run.

Hardesty denied her involvement and called for an investigation into how her name had been attached to the crime and released to the media. A subsequent investigation revealed that Hunzeker, a Portland police officer and then-president of PPB’s rank-and-file union, the Portland Police Association (PPA), was responsible for the inaccurate leaked information. During the investigation, Hunzeker told investigators that he shared the false report with Oregonian reporter Maxine Bernstein partly in response to “Commissioner Hardesty’s inaccurate allegations about officers setting fires during protests,” a claim that Hardesty made in 2020 and later apologized for. Hunzeker also indicated that he believed sharing the unverified report with a reporter was a way of “advocating” for his fellow police officers in response to Hardesty’s criticism of the police bureau, which investigators determined to mean he understood that the hit-and-run allegation would harm Hardesty’s reputation and credibility. Investigators determined that Hunzeker violated bureau policies on dissemination of information, confidentiality, and retaliation.

Following the investigation, Mayor Ted Wheeler—who oversees the police bureau—chose to fire Hunzeker due to the “egregiousness of his actions.”

Police Chief Chuck Lovell disagreed with Hunzeker’s termination at the time, believing that the officer should have only been given a 12-week suspension.

Despite the initial investigation’s findings, Hunzeker maintained that his actions were not retaliatory. A state labor arbitrator—a public employee responsible for evaluating labor disputes—agreed with Hunzeker.

According to the arbitrator’s report, prompted by Hunzeker appealing his termination through the PPA, the city failed to provide evidence to prove that Hunzeker acted in retaliation. The public report redacts Hunzeker’s name, but details of the report and statements by the PPA confirm his identity.

In the report, Williams notes that “there is no question that the information disclosed was adverse to the interests of Commissioner Hardesty,” but argues that evidence of Hunzeker leaking the false information about Hardesty as a form of “payback” is circumstantial.

Williams argues that PPA has a long history of “clashing” with the Mayor, City Council, and Hardesty prior to Hunzeker’s appointment to PPA President in late 2020. Because “PPA had a substantial history […] of publicly questioning the work of Commissioner Hardesty,” Hunzeker’s “interest and concern” that Hardesty may have been involved in a hit-and-run was understandable. Williams also determined that Hunzeker was acting as President of the PPA, not an officer, when he contacted the reporter to leak the information.

“The Arbitrator concludes that [Hunzeker’s] contact with the reporter cannot be viewed in isolation, it should be viewed as a continuation of the PPA’s political efforts to discredit Commissioner Hardesty’s attacks on the PPB and the PPA,” Williams wrote. “It also gives credibility to [Hunzeker’s] statement that if the allegation was true, it was a matter of public interest.”

Williams goes on to argue that the act of disseminating the information and the motivation for disseminating the information are two different issues. While the city, PPA, Hunzeker, and Williams all agree that Hunzeker violated PPB’s rules against disseminating information when he shared the unverified report of the hit-and-run with the Oregonian, they disagree on his reasons for doing it.

When it comes to Hunzeker’s motivations for leaking the information, Williams cites Hunzeker’s repeated claims that Hardesty’s involvement in a hit-and-run, if true, would be of public interest. Williams argues that, because of the long history of the PPA “questioning the attacks of Commissioner Hardesty on the PPB,” Hunzeker’s motivation was in line with his position as PPA president.

“It is political discourse,” Williams writes. “And, as the Union emphasizes, political discourse cannot be defined broadly as prohibited retaliation.”

In other words, Hunzeker’s motivations for revealing unverified information about Hardesty that could damage her credibility were because of his role as union president, not a personal vendetta.

Two other officers were also involved in the false information leak, but the city did not fire them for helping disseminate the information.

Though Hunzeker was fired because the city believed he retaliated against Hardesty—a claim Williams found to be unsubstantiated—the arbitrator ruled that Hunzeker’s termination was not reasonable and he should have been disciplined similarly to the other two officers.

“An injustice can be done when a good police officer is terminated for political or other reasons not justified by the facts,” Williams wrote.

“It is this Arbitrator’s conclusion that the discharge of [Hunzeker] falls into that category. The facts do not justify the decision to terminate his employment.”

Williams determined that Hunzeker should have only been suspended for a week without pay in response to breaking PPB policy for dissemination of information. Due to the ruling, the city must reinstate Hunzeker to the police force within 30 days and pay him for lost wages since his termination, minus one week.

In a Thursday press release, PPA applauded Hunzeker’s reinstatement.

“Our social structures must allow for facts, not hyperbole or rhetoric, to guide our decisions about accountability,” PPA wrote. “The only way to build and maintain trust in policing—or in any of our social institutions for that matter—is to approach any issue objectively, with an eye to fairness and restoration.”>>


<< A Portland Police officer has been reinstated after leaking false information that linked former City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty to a hit-and-run accident.

An investigation found that Officer Brian Hunzeker leaked information to a reporter falsely accusing Commissioner Jo Anne Hardesty of a hit-and-run back in March 2021.

A driver told police it was Hardesty who hit her, but it was later proven that she was not involved. Hunzeker was then fired by the City, resigned as president of the police union and apologized for his statements.

The Portland Police Association reports that Brian Hunzeker has been put back in a PPB officer role. An arbitrator selected by the Oregon labor board “thoroughly consider[ed] all the facts and legislatively-enacted police accountability standards” before taking the action.

The formal decision also acknowledged the issue of police accountability and public trust.

“The Arbitrator makes the general observation that there is a national concern over the power of an arbitrator to put back to work an officer that should not be in law enforcement. Clearly, the public should be concerned when officers keep their employment when they have a history of unacceptable violence. That is not the case for Officer Hunzeker.”

The Arbitrator said they came to the decision after consideration of all the facts.

“With full consideration for the national and local issues around police misconduct, The Arbitrator sets forth that not all misconduct should result in termination. An injustice can be done when a good police officer is terminated for political or other reasons not justified by the facts. It is this Arbitrator’s conclusion that the discharge of [Officer Hunzeker] falls into that category. The facts do not justify the decision to terminate his employment.”>>


<<A former Portland Police officer fired from the force, has been reinstated. Brian Hunzeker will soon return as an officer with the Portland Police Bureau after an arbitrator appointed by the State Labor Board decided to reinstate him.>>

<<Hunzeker’s trouble started in March 2021 after an investigation linked him to a false report wrongly naming then-commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty as a hit-and-run crash suspect.>>

<<Today, following the arbitrator’s decision, Mayor Wheeler issued a statement, saying, “While I stand behind my decision in this case, I respect the legal process. Meaningful accountability can take many forms, even when it may not look exactly the way we initially envisioned it. It is my sincere hope that we can all come together and find ways to bring healing for the harm caused and unity in ensuring it never happens again.”

Hunzeker previously served as president of the Portland Police Association.>>


<<Williams, the arbitrator, concluded that although Hunzeker should be disciplined for violating confidentiality rules, the city was unable to prove that his actions were retaliatory. His “motive was public discourse,” Williams wrote.

“As the union emphasizes, political discourse cannot be defined broadly as prohibited retaliation,” he added.>>

<<In a statement today, the PPA called the leak an “isolated mistake.”

“My sincere hope is that we recognize and embrace this opportunity to build upon reasonable discourse,” says current union president Sgt. Aaron Schmautz.>>



<<The Portland Police Association says their memorial to fallen police officers in Tom McCall Waterfront Park was vandalized.

The association’s president, Sgt. Aaron Schmautz, says the damage was discovered on Wednesday. The vandalism happened sometime on the night of Tuesday, Jan. 31. Individual plaques of fallen officers were damaged with the pictures ripped off and the names scratched out.

“This is a senseless, destructive and intentional act,” said Chief Lovell. “This memorial honors heroes—people who had the courage to give their lives while serving the City of Portland. No amount of destruction can erase their legacy. My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of the people named on the memorial. There are spouses, children, grandchildren and more who suffered greatly by the loss of their loved one. To see a cowardly act such as this done in an attempt to dishonor that memory is disgraceful.>>

<<The memorial, which is located near the Hawthorne Bridge, has been in place since 1994 and honors those Portland officers who died in the line of duty. There are currently 29 Portland police members honored on the wall that range from the first killed in 1867 to the last in 2002.>>

<<Portland City Council released a statement about the vandalism, saying:

“The Portland City Council condemns the despicable vandalization of the Portland Police Memorial, a site that honors Portland Police Officers who died in the line of duty. The memorial has stood on Portland’s Waterfront Park for nearly 30 years in recognition of their service to Portlanders. This ugly criminal act seeks only to fuel divisive and destructive rhetoric that is not representative of who we are as a city. We at City Council will work together with the Portland Police Historical Society to ensure the memorial is restored. We recognize the hardworking public safety personnel who work to keep our community safe every day and honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.”>>



<<The Portland Police Bureau is making some progress in addressing its persistent staffing woes, thanks to more than a thousand people applying for open officer positions in the past year alone.

Amy Neidiffer, who has a degree in criminal justice and a Masters degree in criminology, said she felt called to serve her city.

“I want to be a part of the growth. I want to be a part of the healing.

I want to reassure people that we’re here and we’re here as public servants,” said Neidiffer.

According to the police bureau, just under 100 officers, Neidiffer included, are currently in training, a process that can take more than 18 months to complete.

“You could hire 1000 police officers today, but they’re not going to be able to count toward fixing a problem until, you know, 2024,” said Aaron Schmautz, President of the Portland Police Association.

Schmautz said the past couple years have taken a toll on the bureau’s officers, but the officers that remained with the bureau and those joining now genuinely want to serve their community.

The Portland Police Bureau is actively recruiting for its 69 open officer positions.>>



<<The Portland Business Alliance released the results of a recent poll Thursday revealing reduced rates of voter pessimism, but a consistent worry about homelessness, crime and trust in the government.

PBA conducts a poll every year to track the changes over time and understand the concerns of voters. The 2022 poll found that voters are concerned about affordable housing. About 40% rate their economic opportunities as poor or very poor.

Voters support multiple policies addressing public safety and affordable housing, but a majority of voters oppose funding a tenant resource program with a capital gains tax. 61% of voters said state taxes are already too high.

While Portland residents are split about continuing to fund affordable housing bond measures, the rest of the region is mostly opposed to future measures. Voters outside of Portland have a worse outlook toward downtown, saying they feel unsafe there, especially at night.

Although still overwhelmingly negative, pessimism has gone down since 2021. In 2022, 78% of voters said that quality of life is getting worse, compared to the 88% in 2021. About 52% of voters said the Portland region is headed on the wrong track, compared to 62% from the year before.

“For over a decade we have asked voters about their priorities. It is crystal clear what voters in the Portland region want to see elected leaders making progress on: Urgent and decisive improvements to our unsheltered homeless crisis through transitional sheltering and housing production; and second, immediate improvements to public safety based on an efficient and accountable criminal justice system,” says Andrew Hoan, President and CEO of the Portland Business Alliance. “Lastly, regional leaders will have to start focusing on addressing our tax structure in the region or risk the inability to fund critical services that depend on the renewal of dedicated revenue streams. Portland is at a crossroads, and we need our leaders to respond with the urgency that voters are demanding.”>>



<<After being pulled over on his way back from Salem for the second time in a week, freshman state Rep. Travis Nelson of Portland took to Twitter with his exasperation.

“It’s the first day of Black History Month, and I’m getting pulled over — again. The second time in a week,” Nelson said in a brief video attached to his post. While Nelson said that he doesn’t know that he was pulled over due to racial profiling and wants to give the officers the benefit of the doubt, he acknowledged that being a Black man in Oregon can make it easy to stand out.

“I think we should be honest — when you’re Black, in a lot of spaces and a lot of areas, you become suspicious by default,” he said. “And I think most Black people who live in Oregon either know that or have experienced it at some point.”

Nelson said that he was pulled over on Monday, then again on Wednesday.

Both stops involved troopers from Oregon State Police.

“Both the officers were nice to me, we had pleasant interactions — there was nothing bad that happened to me as a result of these stops,” Nelson told KGW’s Bryant Clerkley in an interview. “Yet I was stopped, and I’ve been stopped 40-plus times, probably 50-plus times at this point. And while I don’t know that my race was the reason that they pulled me over, I do believe the unconscious bias is real, and I believe there is a reason other than my driving habits when it comes to why police have chosen to stop me.”>>

<<On Monday, Nelson admitted that he was driving along I-5 with his cruise control set to 9 or 10 mph over the speed limit. When the trooper pulled him over, he said that Nelson was going 76 mph and had strayed from his lane. Nelson doesn’t recall weaving at all.

Two days later, Nelson was again traveling home from Salem along I-5. He had his phone in a hands-free holder while attending a virtual meeting, but took the phone down to rejoin the meeting when there were technical issues. That’s when he was pulled over for the second time.

Neither of the traffic stops resulted in a ticket, Nelson said. While he’s been pulled over many times — especially when he was younger — he said that he’s rarely cited. More likely, he thinks, is that he’s usually being checked to see if his car is stolen or if there are any warrants for his arrest.>>

<<In 2021, a state commission found that Oregon State Police did disproportionately issue citations to people of color compared to white drivers over the year they studied. Researchers at the time recommended additional training for state troopers.

More recent data has continued to show disparities in Oregon State Police stops for drivers of color. Black drivers were both more likely to be stopped and more likely to be cited than white drivers in 2022.>>


<<“While I was let off with a warning on both occasions, I know that things could have ended very differently,” Nelson adds. “I know that I could have been the next Tyre Nichols. I’m grateful to be alive and to be able to call attention to the change we need in our system.”>>

<<Nelson is currently the only Black man serving in the House. But other Black lawmakers, including state Rep. Janelle Bynum (D-Happy Valley) and state Sens. Lew Frederick and Casey Jama (D-Portland) and James Manning (D-Eugene) have talked previously about excessive police attention. In 2019, Bynum passed a law prohibiting response to 911 calls made to report people for being Black after a nervous constituent summoned a Clackamas County sheriff’s deputy to check on Bynum, who was canvassing in her neighborhood. >>