The city of Portland will pay former City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty thousands of dollars, settling its portion of a lawsuit accusing the city, police union, former union president and a police officer of leaking information that falsely implicated Hardesty in a hit-and-run.
Hardesty, an advocate for defunding the police, was briefly implicated in a March 2021 collision after a 911 caller mistakenly identified her as the driver who rear-ended her and fled the scene. A Portland Police Bureau officer leaked the allegation to an activist friend who later shared the information on a livestream, an internal review conducted last year found.
According to Hardesty’s lawsuit, filed in late 2021, police union president Brian Hunzeker also leaked the false information to a reporter. The suit characterizes the leaks as racially and politically motivated, KGW reported.
Hardesty was swiftly cleared of wrongdoing and Hunzeker — who had only been on the job for a few months — stepped down. The union cited a “serious, isolated mistake” related to the incident as the reason for Hunzeker’s resignation.
The commissioner spearheaded efforts to defund the police as social unrest rocked Portland in 2020, pushing to reallocate tens of millions of dollars from PPB’s budget. She was forced to apologize in July 2020 for alleging that police “saboteurs” and “provocateurs” were the ones starting fires after infiltrating the crowds of demonstrators who took over Portland’s streets every night for months following George Floyd’s murder.
The following June, 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 was ousted in November by political newcomer Rene Gonzalez, who ran as a centrist supporting law and order.
Last week, a lawyer for the city offered to settle Hardesty’s case 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 had only sought $1 in nominal damages from the city, according to KGW. As of last May, the city had paid more than $58,000 defending itself against the lawsuit.
The settlement only applies to the city — the trial for Hardesty’s lawsuit against the Portland Police Association, Hunzeker and Officer Kerri Ottoman 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.