Report Shows Police Used TriMet Surveillance Video to Track Down Hit-and-Run Driver Wrongly Identified as Jo Ann Hardesty

An officer added a license plate for Hardesty to the original report, but that vehicle no longer belonged to her.

City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. (Motoya Nakamura / Multnomah County)

Portland officials released documents this afternoon in a hit-and-run falsely attributed to City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, including police reports and a recording of the 911 call March 3 that wrongly identified Hardesty as the suspect.

The records shed light on two key details: how police later added a license plate number for Hardesty to the report, and how police determined that the actual suspect was another Black woman who superficially resembled her.

Police released the tape of the 911 call by a Portland woman, who tells the operator she's sure the driver who rear-ended her at Southeast 148th Avenue and East Burnside Street was Hardesty.

"I know who hit me," the woman says. "A city commissioner. It was Jo Ann Hardesty. She was behind me for three stop lights: I know it was her."

But the woman did not give the operator a license plate number for Hardesty.

Police reports show that an officer looked up Hardesty's plate number in the bureau's computer system and then went looking for her car near her home in the Gateway neighborhood.

"I checked the Law Enforcement Database System (LEDS) and discovered Hardesty had a 2001 Volvo S60 registered under her name with Oregon license plate 709GRN," Officer Ken Le wrote in his report.

That answers a question lingering from earlier coverage: How did police get a license plate number for Hardesty?

The Oregonian included that detail in its original story, writing "the driver gave police the license plate of the car." That made the information seem more substantial than it turned out to be.

The story started unraveling fairly quickly. When an officer called the alleged victim at 11 am on March 4, she was less sure about who had hit her.

"[She] told me that she could not say 100% that the driver that tapped her rear bumper was the city commissioner, but if it wasn't, then there is someone out there that looks a lot like her," Officer Christopher Johnson wrote in his report.

At a 12:30 pm press conference on March 4, Hardesty vehemently denied having driven the previous day—and she referred to her car as a Volkswagen Passat, not a Volvo.

The problem, as police reports show, is that the plate number Officer Le found was no longer Hardesty's.

Later on March 4, another officer accessed the DMV database—which apparently has better information than the LEDS system—and discovered that Hardesty had donated the Volvo with plate 709GRN to Volunteers of America and so no longer owned the car.

Meanwhile, police learned the hit-and-run did in fact happen. It just involved someone else.

The intersection where the alleged crash took place is near a TriMet MAX station and, when officers requested video from that station, they got images of the incident.

A still from the video, the police report says, showed "a license plate, along with a still shot showing the driver appears to be a black, female or male, dark clothing with what appears to be prominent cheekbones, and something on or over the person's head, possibly a hood or wig."

The license plate led police to Shirley Collins, 64, of Vancouver, Wash., who they believe was driving a silver 2008 Honda Accord that day. An officer went to Collins' home and asked her about the accident and, according to his report, she said somebody else must have been driving her car.

Then, on March 10, Officer David Enz got additional video from TriMet, this time from a station at Southeast 181st Avenue. Enz wrote in his report that the new video showed that Collins was in fact the driver.

"This investigation proves that Collins was the suspect driver, not Hardesty," he wrote in his report. "As previously stated, there is a resemblance between Hardesty and Collins. The main difference in appearance between them would be the hair style and color. Collins hair is short and gray/white, while Hardesty has long hair.

"The fact that Collins was wearing a hood, which covered her hair, makes the stark difference (hair length and color) between the two irrelevant."

Collins did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Portland Police Bureau referred the case to the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office for possible prosecution.

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.

Related: Someone leaked false information about Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty to her adversaries.

Hardesty's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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