Hit-and-Run-Gate


Tess Riski, the Willamette Week reporter, gets first prize for best use of an adjective this month. She labeled as "astonishing" yesterday's news that the head of the Portland police union, Brian Hunzeker, was forced to resign after apparently being implicated in a campaign to spread what turned out to be a false accusation of hit-and-run driving against city commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. Hardesty is a fierce and stubborn nemesis of the city's wayward police force.

Hunzeker's sudden departure is astonishing, all right. A new low for the Portland cops, in a century of lows. And significant, in that the city and the union are in the middle of a tense and critical contract negotiation right now.

Hunzeker acknowledges that he "made a mistake," but we're not told what that "mistake" was. Even Mayor Dud Wheeler, who is supposedly the police commissioner, says he's in the dark on the details.

The union knows, and the police chief probably does, too. But there's that blue line of silence and secrecy. "We can't comment because there's an investigation." It's the usual bullcrap.

I've resisted digging into this tawdry story until now, but if it caused Hunzeker (a resident of Ridgefield, Washington) to give up his cushy union chief post, it must be worth at least a little attention. Piecing it together from a number of news reports, I get this:

Late in the afternoon on March 3, two weeks ago today, a white woman identified as Evelyn Ellis was slightly rear-ended out by the MAX tracks on Burnside near 148th in east Portland. Ellis told police the driver who tapped her rear bumper and then drove away looked like Hardesty, who is Black.

One of the police officers, Ken Le, looked Hardesty up in the "Law Enforcement Database System" and found that she owned a Volvo with a license number of 709GRN. Le put that number into his police report. He and another cop also went looking for that car. It doesn't appear that they ever found it, although one media report says that "a sergeant checked the bureau’s license plate reader system and also picked up the Volvo’s license plates in the vicinity of Hardesty’s home."

The problem was that the database that Le checked was out-of-date. Hardesty long ago gave the Volvo away to charity. (Oregon government + computers = What could go wrong?)

The police later looked at MAX security cam footage and determined that the suspect was in fact driving a Honda sedan registered to someone other than Hardesty – Shirley Collins, a 64-year-old Black woman in Vancouver, Washington. Another MAX video allegedly shows Collins driving the car behind Ellis's.

With that, Hardesty was cleared. But in the meantime, right-wing activists had broadcast the false claim of Hardesty's involvement all over social media. And the mainstream media and many others had repeated it.

Which leaves us here, according to WW's Nigel Jaquiss:

While the police reports answer questions of how Hardesty's plate number got into the public record, whether the incident actually occurred and who was apparently involved, the question of who shared the information with conservative activists and media remains unanswered. That question is still the subject of an internal affairs investigation and will be the subject of an independent investigation, the scope of which Hardesty and Mayor Ted Wheeler are still determining.

Next thing you know, Hunzeker is out. Hmmmm...

When the anarchists chant that all cops are bastards, I disagree. But I'll give the kids this much: The bastards in the police ranks are more than just a few.

Comments

  1. And, if all cops maintain that 'blue line of silence and secrecy', as you described it, then all cops are complicit in the crimes of those they protect. So....I'll have to disagree with your disagreement with 'the kids'. As long as this continues, ALL cops are bastards.

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