The U.S. Department of Justice will conduct a civil rights investigation into the 2017 wrongful arrest of Portland resident Michael Fesser.
The decision Wednesday comes a week after three members of Congress urged a federal inquiry into wrongdoing by West Linn police in building a questionable theft case against Fesser, who is African American. The case led West Linn last week to settle a federal discrimination and wrongful arrest lawsuit by Fesser for $600,000.
Oregon’s U.S. Attorney’s Office will investigate whether any federal crimes were committed in the case. Fesser’s allegations cross two counties and involved both West Linn and Portland police departments.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined comment “while our investigation is ongoing,” said spokesman Kevin Sonoff.
Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote and Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill said they will continue their inquiries to determine if credibility concerns raised in the case about the involved officers should trigger a so-called Brady notice. That refers to an obligation under the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brady v. Maryland that requires prosecutors to disclose to defense lawyers any material that could impeach the credibility of a government witness.
The two district attorneys requested the criminal inquiry be handled by U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams’ office.
He “graciously agreed to assume that responsibility,” Foote and Underhill said in a joint statement.
If there’s a need to do any follow-up investigation for potential state crimes, it will be conducted by either the U.S. Attorney’s Office or the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office.
“We will work closely with each other through this process,” the statement said.
Fesser’s litigation uncovered that West Linn police pursued surveillance and the arrest of Fesser in February 2017 as a favor to a fishing buddy of then-West Linn Police Chief Terry Timeus. Timeus’ buddy was Fesser’s boss, Eric Benson, owner of A&B Towing in Southeast Portland.
Fesser, now 48, argued that the arrest was retaliation for his complaints about a racially hostile work environment at the towing company. Theft charges against Fesser ultimately were dropped, and Benson and his company paid out $415,000 to Fesser to settle a separate discrimination and retaliation suit.
“I am very pleased and encouraged that leaders of many governmental entities are making clear that the police power must not be abused and used for personal and prejudicial purposes,” said Fesser’s attorney, Paul Buchanan. “And that when that happens, those responsible must be accountable.”
— Maxine Bernstein
Email at email@example.com
Follow on Twitter @maxoregonian
Visit subscription.oregonlive.com/newsletters to get Oregonian/OregonLive journalism delivered to your email inbox.
Subscribe to Facebook page