Is it any of our business whether a Portland police officer sometimes wears World War II Nazi uniforms or allegedly yelled racist and homophobic statements as a teen?
The City of Portland claims it isn't. Alan Graf, the self-described "Hippie Lawyer," says it is.
Last week the disagreement entered the legal arena when the city filed a motion to block Graf from alleging that Sgt. Mark Kruger has a secret past.
Kruger is a co-defendant in a lawsuit Graf and other members of the National Lawyers Guild filed a year ago accusing the Portland Police Bureau of excessive force in its handling of the 2002 anti-Bush protest (see "Red-Pepper Blues," WW, Aug. 28, 2002). Footage of Kruger at the protest made the news, and prompted an apology from Chief Mark Kroeker, after the cop pepper-sprayed Channel 12 camerawoman Beth English in the face.
The allegations about Kruger's history, however, didn't surface until this spring, after he was photographed pepper-spraying a young woman in the face at close range during an anti-war protest (see "Tales of the Tape," WW, April 2, 2003).
One of Kruger's former friends, Robert Williams, a white-collar professional and a veteran of the elite Army Rangers unit, says he contacted Graf after seeing the photos. In a sworn affidavit provided for Graf's lawsuit, Williams says he hung out with Kruger and a friend of Kruger's named Robert Seaburg between 1982 and 1984. He says both men collected Nazi memorabilia and "displayed a hatred of gays, Jews and racial minorities."
Williams, now 37, said the three young military buffs used to ride around Portland "listening to Hitler's speeches and yelling racist and homophobic comments to people who were on the sidewalk."
Williams, ashamed of his own youthful activities, says he knows people can change. But he told WW the photos, in which Kruger, a Parkrose High School grad, appears to be smiling as he sprays the protester, made him question whether the cop's views had evolved.
Others scoff at the attack on Kruger. "If he's a Nazi, then I'm Saddam Hussein," says bureau spokesman Brian Schmautz, who called the accusation "laughable."
Graf, in a court filing, claims he has "reliable evidence" that Kruger, 35, still has a large collection of Nazi artifacts and uniforms that he wears in World War II reenactments. Graf also submitted an affidavit from psychologist James E. Bryan claiming the allegations about Kruger suggest a propensity for violence.
On Sept. 23, Deputy City Attorney William Manlove filed a motion saying that Graf was trying to "smear" the cop and that his questions infringed upon Kruger's free-speech and "privacy interests."
According to Manlove's motion, Kruger "vigorously disputes" the notion that he is racist, homophobic or anti-Semitic. Kruger does own Nazi memorabilia, but only because he "has an avid interest in military history."
If all this seems weird, hold on. It gets weirder.
In his court filings, Graf says that shortly after Kruger was deposed, the lawyer was walking on Belmont when a passing car slowed and a man inside called him a liar and threatened to "blow his brains out." Considering the timing, the allegation sparked interest by District Attorney Mike Schrunk--who then got a surprise of his own.
It now appears that Kruger's pal "Seaburg" was really Robert W. Seeberg, who changed his surname to Seaver in 1985 and today is a 40-year-old records clerk in Schrunk's agency. Neither Kruger nor Seaver returned WW's calls.
On Monday, Senior Deputy DA John Bradley and two colleagues questioned Williams at length about Seeberg/Seaver's activities. Schrunk told WW, "We're trying to get to the bottom of it."