PORTLAND — A former Portland police officer and union leader has been reinstated to the force after he was fired last spring for leaking a false complaint about a city official, according to a report filed this week with the Oregon Employment Relations Board.
Mayor Ted Wheeler fired Brian Hunzeker in spring after he leaked the erroneous complaint saying city Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty had been involved in a hit-and-run crash. Hunzeker then stepped down from the Portland Police Association, saying in a statement that he had made “a serious, isolated mistake related to the Police Bureau’s investigation into the alleged hit-and-run by Commissioner Hardesty.”
The state-appointed arbitrator, Timothy Williams, directed the city this week to reinstate Hunzeker within 30 days and pay him lost wages minus a one-week suspension, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.
In his report, Williams said when Hunzeker violated the police bureau’s dissemination of information directives, he was working in an inherently political role, not as an officer.
“He represented his constituents in the ongoing debate related to holding police accountable, defunding police, etc. He made a significant mistake, but it was not related to his work as an officer,” Williams wrote.
Hunzeker’s discipline-free 20-year career has been “exemplary,” Williams noted.
Williams also said the city failed to support its claim that Hunzeker was responsible for causing “extreme harm,” siding instead with the union’s argument that multiple factors harmed Hardesty, including leaks from other officers who were not fired.
Hunzeker did not respond to requests for comment from the news outlet. Hardesty also did not respond to requests for comment.
“While I stand behind my decision in this case, I respect the legal process,” Wheeler said in a statement. “Meaningful accountability can take many forms, even when it may not look exactly the way we initially envisioned it. It is my sincere hope that we can all come together and find ways to bring healing for the harm caused and unity in ensuring it never happens again.”
An internal affairs investigation concluded Hunzeker and two other officers — Ken Le and Kerri Ottoman — were responsible for leaking a report from a 911 caller incorrectly identifying Hardesty as the driver of a vehicle that rear-ended her at a Portland intersection.
According to the internal investigation, Hunzeker leaked the details to a reporter at The Oregonian/OregonLive, which published the allegations. Hunzeker admitted to investigators he leaked the information.
Police Chief Chuck Lovell initially recommended Hunzeker receive a 12-week suspension without pay but was overruled by Wheeler, who is also the police commissioner.
Current union president Sgt. Aaron Schmautz applauded the decision to reinstate Hunzeker. In a statement Thursday, Schmautz said Hunzeker admitted early on and publicly that he made a mistake.
Hardesty, who is Black, is seeking $3 million from the police union and $1 million each from Hunzeker, who is white, and another officer as part of a discrimination lawsuit. The lawsuit also seeks $1 from the city of Portland and a declaration that it violated Hardesty’s right to be free from “race-based distinctions, discrimination or restrictions.”
Hardesty, who in 2018 became the first Black woman elected to the Portland City Council, lost a bid for reelection in November.