Michael Fesser filed a lawsuit against his city along with several members of the police department. He was awarded a $600,000 payout.
In February 2017, Michael Fesser, a black man from Portland, informed his boss Eric Benson, the owner of A&B Towing, that he had experienced racial discrimination at work. He claimed that the discrimination involved his coworkers calling him racial slurs. Following his complaint, Benson got in touch with West Linn Police Chief Terry Timeus, who happened to be his friend. He urged the Chief to look into allegations that Fesser had been stealing from the company. The police then arrested Fesser. Since then, the employee filed a lawsuit against the city of West Linn, alleging that he was placed under unlawful surveillance and wrongly arrested, NBC News reports.
The issue came to light after Fesser filed a lawsuit with the United States District Court in Portland, highlighting the series of events that led to his incorrect arrest. He alleged that the incident caused him emotional distress and resulted in economic damages. Along with the city of West Linn, he sued several members of the West Linn Police Department for false arrest, malicious prosecution, defamation, and invasion of privacy. The suit provides details about the complaint that prompted the illegal surveillance of Fesser, arguing that the claims of theft were false and unsubstantiated. Despite this, West Linn Police Lieutenant Mike Stradley, and Detectives Tony Reeves and Mike Boyd utilized audio and video equipment to illegally survey the employee while at the workplace.
.@ChiefResch has asked PPB’s Professional Standards unit to look into the involvement of its Gang Enforcement Officers in 2017 arrest of Michael Fesser - based on retired PPB /then West Linn Lt. Mike Stradley’s unsubstantiated suspicions that Fesser was ‘gang associate’ https://t.co/jSdmjMBHM1— Maxine Bernstein (@maxoregonian) February 12, 2020
The lawsuit claimed that the surveillance was "conducted without a warrant or probable cause," and even worse yet, did not result in any evidence that Fesser was stealing from the company. Irrespective of the lack of evidence, West Linn officers, with the help of Portland police officers, arrested Fesser. The arrest, which was made only a few days after the surveillance began, was based on Reeve and Stradley's "false representations" to Portland police. They claimed they had probable cause for an arrest, though no such cause existed. The suit stated, "Sgt. Reeves and Sgt. Boyd unlawfully arrested, detained and interrogated Mr. Fesser in Portland, outside their jurisdiction, without probable cause." It also added that the officers confiscated Fesser's personal belongings, including papers about his complaint of racial discrimination at the workplace.
“Michael Fesser, a father of eight who now runs a prison ministry and transitional program to support men getting out of prison, said he took legal action so this doesn’t happen to another black man, including his two teenage sons.”— Carl Nellis (@Guthfana) February 11, 2020
I salute his courage.
The employee spent eight hours at the police station before he was let go on the basis of his own recognizance. After he was released, he was asked to return in order to collect his belongings, at which point he was informed that he was fired from his job. According to the lawsuit, "The West Linn Defendants' surveillance, arrest, incarceration, and interrogation of Mr. Fesser without a warrant or probable cause and their pursuit of baseless criminal charges against Mr. Fesser were racially motivated, retaliatory, extra-jurisdictional and an egregious abuse of the power with which the police are entrusted." An investigation shortly ensued.
I was sickened by the story of Portland resident Michael Fesser who was the victim of racially motivated harassment, surveillance, & arrest by the former West Linn Police Chief, in collusion with Mr. Fesser’s employer A&B Towing in SE Portland.— Commissioner Eudaly (@ChloeEudalyPDX) February 13, 2020
It was discovered that Reeves and Benson discussed the investigation via private text messages. In one message, Reeves stated Fesser should be swiftly arrested before he went further with his complaint of racial discrimination. Therefore, the arrest would not look like retaliation to his complaint. Since the lawsuit was first filed, the city of West Linn has settled the lawsuit and paid Fesser $600,000. An earlier lawsuit filed against his employer was settled in March last year for $415,000. According to Fesser's attorney Paul Buchanan, his client is happy that both cases have reached a resolution. "He is doing fine," the lawyer stated. "This was not about money for him. This was about that they should not be allowed to do this."
It is unclear if the police officers involved were brought to justice. Nonetheless, the police department affirmed in a press release, "The City of West Linn and the West Linn Police Department do not tolerate any acts of discrimination or disparate treatment by its employee. In 2018, when the allegations were first reported, an internal investigation was conducted and swift and appropriate disciplinary personnel action was taken." Reportedly, Fesser's lawsuit could be the largest in the state for a wrongful arrest. It is heartening to know that good trumped evil in this case.