The chorus of voices calling out an egregious case of racially motivated policing involving officers from West Linn and Portland now extends from the halls of Congress to the Oregon governor's office and throughout the Portland region.
Members of Oregon's congressional delegation and the entire Portland City Council have called on Oregon's U.S. Attorney Billy Williams to investigate whether civil rights laws were broken in the 2017 arrest of a Portland man, Michael Fesser.
Late Friday, leaders in West Linn added their voices to the call for an federal investigation.
"The case is complicated and concerning," the entire West Linn council wrote to federal prosecutors. "It involves multiple decisions over the last three years that need to be fully evaluated."
Fesser was surveilled by West Linn police officers after reporting racial harassment to his boss, Eric Benson, the owner of Southeast Portland’s A&B Towing.
Rather than address the concerns, Benson asked his friend, former West Linn Police Chief Terry Timeus, to investigate allegations that Fesser was stealing from the company.
West Linn Police officers surveilled Fesser and ultimately arrested him on Feb. 25, 2017, with the assistance of five Portland police officers without probable cause. Fesser sued West Linn and received a $600,000 settlement, which was first reported by the Oregonian/OregonLive this week, setting off the firestorm of response from public officials.
“We strongly believe a federal investigation is also merited into the possibility of federal violations that might suggest a civil rights violation rising to the level of criminal offenses,” U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley, Ron Wyden and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer wrote in a letter to Williams on Thursday.
“All Oregonians must have full confidence that law enforcement at every level will treat them with fairness and without prejudice motivated by race or personal animus."
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office confirmed they received the letter, but said they can't comment on any potential investigation.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown also ordered the state's Department of Public Safety Standards and Training to swiftly and thoroughly review the case.
“If what Oregonians are hearing about this case is true, everything about it is egregious, horrific, and completely unacceptable," Brown said in a statement. "Law enforcement officers take a pledge to uphold the law and keep everyone safe—which is the opposite of active abuse of power, cronyism, hate crimes, and obstruction of justice."
West Linn City Councilor Jules Walters said the settlement was discussed at the city council meeting Monday evening.
The money came from the city's insurance company, raising questions about how much city officials knew about details of the case.
Walters said despite hearing about the case during an executive session, she learned more after reading the Oregonian article. Because the settlement conversation took place during an executive session, Walters said she couldn't provide specifics about what was discussed in the meeting versus what details she learned from the newspaper account.
"From reading the article, I read facts that I had not heard before," she said. "I was extremely upset and morally outraged this is happened in our city."
West Linn City Councilor Richard Sakelik said there's an interference clause in the city's charter that prevents elected officials from interfering with employee matters. Still, he believes the council -- and the public -- deserve more information.
“I want to get to the truth of what happened,” Sakelik said. “Who knew what? When? With all these investigations, I think that will happen.”
In their letter, Portland's elected leaders sought to distance Portland Police from the incident, writing in a public letter they were "appalled by the alleged abuses of power" by Timeus and Sgt. Tony Reeves, who was also involved in the surveillance.
On Wednesday, West Linn put Reeves on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of an investigation started by district attorneys in Multnomah and Clackamas counties.
"We are particularly distressed by the fact that West Linn involved the Portland Police Bureau in this incident through what appeared to be a routine request for assistance in effecting an arrest," Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioners Amanda Fritz, Jo Ann Hardesty and Chole Eudaly wrote in their letter. "This type of misconduct cannot be tolerated anywhere. It will not be tolerated in Portland."
The leaders noted the Portland Police Bureau is conducting an internal affairs investigation. And they said they welcomed the DA's investigation "to determine to what extent Portland resources, including PPB and Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, were used under false pretexts."
In addition to placing West Linn Sgt. Reeves on paid leave, current West Linn Police Chief Terry Kruger noted this week that the arrest took place three years ago and that Reeves is the only police officer involved who remains on the force.
Kruger suggested the department is in a different place than it was under Chief Timeus.
“The former Chief, Captain and Lieutenant involved, no longer work here. Three Sergeants, one Detective and thirteen Officers have also left service from the City of West Linn in that same timeframe,” Kruger wrote Wednesday. “All in a department of 30 sworn personnel.”
West Linn Councilor Sakelik said he too learned of Reeves' involvement in the surveillance from the newspaper article, after Monday's city council executive session.
"Our council was never advised by any city staff that Mr. Reese had done any of these things," Sakelik said. "The residents of the city are up in arms. Everyone wants to know why was this guy on our payroll for two years."