2/9/23 *Special Edition*


<<WW reviewed a list of arbitration decisions published by the state’s Employment Relations Board. The list is incomplete—until recently, arbitrators were not required to submit their decisions to the state.

But a review of even this limited set of decisions illustrates the cycle’s persistence. Out of the 10 cases in the past two decades involving Portland police misconduct, arbitrators ruled in cops’ favor in eight of them.

The Portland Police Association is one of the most powerful unions in the state, and has been for decades. A WW cover story in 2020 traced the long history of the union’s influence, and the hard-charging contract negotiations that underpin it (“The Blue Wall,” WW, June 24, 2020).

“I think every firing of an officer was overturned when I was in office,” former City Commissioner Mike Lindberg, who served from 1979 to 1996, told WW at the time.

Although police forces often have powerful unions, Portland is in some respects an outlier. Nationwide studies have shown that arbitrators typically run in officers’ favor only around 50% to 60% of the time.

Sgt. Aaron Schmautz, president of Portland’s police union, credits his organization’s judiciousness for its remarkable record. “The reason that the PPA is historically successful is because we don’t just grieve everything,” he says. “We only complain when we think that it’s unfair.”

The PPA has taken the city to arbitration in only 2% of disciplinary cases, according to recent statistics he shared with WW.

But those cases are often the most politically inflammatory, and the fact that appointed arbitrators so consistently overrule elected city leaders has long inflamed critics.

Such frustration led state legislators to reform the law enforcement arbitration process in 2021. Those reforms limited arbitrators’ power.

They could only overturn discipline that was “arbitrary or capricious”—or for allegations that were false.

The latter is how Timothy Williams, a randomly appointed arbitrator with nearly five decades of experience, overturned Hunzeker’s firing. He concluded there was not “a preponderance of evidence” that Hunzeker was guilty of all the charges the city levied against him.

In March 2021, Oregonian reporter Maxine Bernstein called Hunzeker trying to confirm a tip that someone inside the Police Bureau was concocting a hit-and-run accusation against then-Commissioner Hardesty, a prominent critic. Hunzeker responded by texting Bernstein a copy of a police report listing Hardesty as the suspect in a hit-and-run accident in East Portland. (The crash victim had mistakenly identified Hardesty.)

The Oregonian ran the story.

After Hunzeker admitted that Hardesty’s ongoing criticism of the city’s police force played into his decision to leak the document, the city added retaliation to the list of charges. Mayor Wheeler ultimately fired him.

But Williams disagreed. Given Hunzeker’s position as head of the police union, Williams wrote, his motivation was “public discourse,” not retaliation. In other words, because Hunzeker had a political job, he was entitled to engage in political speech.

This conclusion outrages Dan Handelman, head of Portland Copwatch, who noted that Hunzeker was acting as a police officer—not a union official—when he accessed the confidential file. “Ignoring that is a fundamental slap in the face to the community, to Jo Ann Hardesty, and to justice,” Handelman says.

If so, it’s only the latest. Here are the eight rulings on Portland police misconduct, including Hunzeker’s, that have been published by the state ERB. (In the other two, the union lost on technicalities—it failed to meet submission deadlines.)

Officer: Brian Hunzeker, former president of the police union

What happened: Hunzeker leaked a confidential police report incorrectly accusing Jo Ann Hardesty, a prominent critic, of a hit-and-run.

Charges: Leaking, retaliation

Original discipline: Fired

Arbitrator: Timothy Williams

Ruling: One-week suspension

Date: Jan. 31, 2023

Rationale: Williams found Hunzeker guilty of leaking, but not retaliation. Williams was also unconvinced that the resulting Oregonian story did much harm to Hardesty, and concluded that a one-week suspension—more than the one-day suspension given to another officer accused of leaking the report, but less than the 12 weeks preferred by the chief of police—was the appropriate discipline.

Officer: Andrew Caspar

What happened: Caspar arrived late to a welfare check, telling bystanders, “We don’t chase known suspects thanks to the Obama administration.”

Charges: Laziness, lying

Original discipline: Fired

Arbitrator: Michael Cavanaugh

Ruling: Written reprimand

Date: June 7, 2021

Rationale: Cavanaugh says he was “perhaps more sympathetic than the city” to Caspar’s explanations for his delay in responding to a mental health welfare check. Caspar blamed “heavy rush-hour traffic,” despite GPS tracking data that suggested he was hanging out with a trainee inside a Starbucks. In the end, Cavanaugh was unconvinced Caspar’s evasions amounted to lies.

Officer: Lt. Rachel Andrew

What happened: Andrew filed a report claiming another officer “yelled” at her over the phone. She was also accused of being overly touchy-feely with co-workers.

Charges: Sexual harassment, lying

Original discipline: 80-hour suspension

Arbitrator: Judy Henry

Ruling: 40-hour suspension

Date: Sept. 14, 2014

Rationale: Henry concluded that Andrew’s statement in her report was “untenable” and she had made “inappropriate comments.” The arbitrator was unconvinced, however, that Andrew’s sexual comments were unwelcome.

Officer: Scott Dunick

What happened: Dunick smoked pot, gave prescription drugs to a co-worker, and was arrested for DUII.

Charge: Ongoing substance abuse problems

Original discipline: Fired

Arbitrator: Stanley Michelstetter

Ruling: Reinstated, with mandatory drug testing

Date: Dec. 12, 2012

Rationale: Michelstetter accused the police chief at the time, Mike Reese, of making “a number of crucial errors” during the disciplinary process, including failing to evaluate Dunick for disability retirement as the result of mental illness.

Officers: Christopher Humphreys and Sgt. Kyle Nice

What happened: Officers beat to death 42-year-old James P. Chasse Jr., who was unarmed and suffering from mental illness.

Charge: Failing to ensure Chasse received proper medical care after he was tasered

Original discipline: 80-hour suspensions

Arbitrator: Timothy Williams

Ruling: Cleared of wrongdoing

Date: July 9, 2012

Rationale: Williams noted that paramedics examined Chasse at the scene, and the decision not to later send for an ambulance was OK’d by an on-call nurse—it was not a “mandatory requirement,” according to bureau policy.

Officer: Ronald Frashour

What happened: Frashour fatally shot 25-year-old Aaron Campbell in the back with an AR-15 rifle.

Charge: Excessive force

Original discipline: Fired

Arbitrator: Jane R. Wilkinson

Ruling: Reinstated

Date: March 30, 2012

Rationale: Wilkinson concluded “it was reasonable” for Frashour to believe Campbell was armed, and reaching toward his waistband, when he shot him. “This was a very tragic case,” she wrote, “one where the Monday-morning quarterback has the clear advantage when divining what went wrong.”

Officer: Lt. Jeffrey Kaer

What happened: Kaer shot and killed 28-year-old Dennis Lamar Young, whom Kaer found parked outside Young’s sister’s home in what Kaer suspected was a stolen car. Young backed the car toward officers while attempting to flee.

Charge: Poor judgment

Original discipline: Fired

Arbitrator: Gary Axon

Ruling: 30-day suspension

Date: July 28, 2008

Rationale: Axon sided with Kaer’s commanders, who believed the hasty decision to shoot deserved a suspension, not termination.

Officer: Scott McCollister

What happened: McCollister shot and killed Kendra James, a 21-year-old Black woman, as he attempted to drag her from a car. There was a warrant for James’ arrest, and she was fleeing from a traffic stop.

Charge: Poor tactics

Original discipline: 5.5-month suspension

Arbitrator: John C. Truesdale

Ruling: Cleared of wrongdoing

Date: Jan. 17, 2006

Rationale: Truesdale cited a “disconnect” between the police chief’s “decision-making process” and the “true facts of the situation.” Kendra James was a dangerous flight risk, Truesdale concluded, and the city, “swept up in a maelstrom of swirling public opinion,” rushed to discipline McCollister prior to completing its investigation.>>