For the second time in as many years, Brian Hunzeker, the former head of the Portland police union, has been forced out of the city’s Police Bureau.
He was previously fired little more than a year ago, after leaking a police report in order to damage a political opponent, then-City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. But an employment arbitrator handed Hunzeker back his job in February.
The second honeymoon was short-lived. Last week, Hunzeker resigned after the city learned he was holding a second full-time job as a Clark County, Wash., sheriff’s deputy, in apparent violation of one if not both of his employment contracts.
He had taken the job across the Columbia River while appealing his firing from Portland—and when he got his old job back, he didn’t quit. Instead, he collected paychecks from both.
WW informed the city of his double employment the morning of April 14, and was told that evening that the city had “just learned” of his second job in Clark County. The city had last week opened an internal affairs investigation into Hunzeker’s employment situation, WW learned later.
Hunzeker’s attorney informed the city of his resignation on April 14, chief deputy city attorney Heidi Brown tells WW. He later returned his equipment, and $27,000 in pay and other expenses.
The Portland Police Association, which Hunzeker once led, says it had no idea Hunzeker held on to his second job. Clark County appears also to have been caught unawares. Its sheriff’s office, where Hunzeker has been employed since August, announced Saturday he had been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.
The fallout marks perhaps the last chapter of an incredible saga. Hunzeker rose in the Portland Police Bureau from motorcycle cop to leading one of the state’s most powerful unions, before being fired for using his new power to attack one of the bureau’s fiercest critics. The mayor’s attempt to fire him failed. Instead, his downfall came from a transgression so basic it’s hard to fathom: working as a police officer in two cities in different states.
“What a waste of everybody’s time and energy,” says Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch. “How much money and time were spent putting this guy back on the force over the objections of community members…and then it’s just all for naught.”
Since first hearing rumors that Hunzeker had sought employment in Washington, WW has tried to answer to an ever-lengthening list of questions: In which state was Hunzeker showing up for work? How long did the city of Portland know of the arrangement? And if it didn’t, how exactly did Hunzeker think he was going to get away with cashing paychecks for two near-six-figure salaries without someone noticing?
WW has found answers to some of these questions, but not all. Both Hunzeker and Mayor Ted Wheeler have declined to comment.
And, most concerningly, the Portland Police Bureau has so far been unable to explain what duties Hunzeker was actually assigned since returning to its payroll. The bureau has simply stopped responding to WW’s emails.
But here’s a clue: The single police cruiser parked outside Hunzeker’s driveway in suburban Washington this weekend was emblazoned “Clark County Sheriff’s Office.”
Here’s what else WW has been able to find out.
Soon after Hunzeker’s 2022 firing, the former Portland cop applied to become a sheriff’s deputy in Southwest Washington, where he had long resided. The job was in many respects an improvement for Hunzeker, offering a comparable salary for a far shorter commute.
On April 28, the Clark County Civil Service Commission reviewed his application. According to minutes from the meeting, the commission debated whether termination for his retaliatory leaking had been appropriate and concluded, evidently, it wasn’t.
Four out of the five commissioners present voted in Hunzeker’s favor.
Garry Presthus, the lone dissenter, explained his general decision-making process to WW last week. “What’s going to happen three years, five years down the road?” he asked. “Are they going to invest a lot of effort and money in somebody that’s going to create havoc?”
Hunzeker was hired Aug. 2, 2022. A WW review of the county sheriff’s Facebook page indicates Hunzeker performed rote police work.
In October, he investigated a convenience store burglary in Felida, a small suburb just north of Vancouver. In November, he was called to the scene after a young man walked into the aftermath of a late-night Halloween party and stole credit cards and audio equipment. When the Maple Tree Neighborhood Association needed a sheriff’s liaison, Hunzeker stepped in.
As Hunzeker was building a new career in Washington, an arbitrator returned his old one.
In February, Timothy Williams reviewed Hunzeker’s firing and determined it was unwarranted, concluding he had leaked secrets but that the retaliatory nature of the act was protected speech. Williams ordered the city to give Hunzeker back his job, plus back pay.
This presented a problem for Hunzeker. He now had two full-time jobs, and he appears to have done little if anything to address the conflict.
The Portland police union’s contract with the city prohibits “more than 20 hours per week of secondary employment.” But a spokesman for Clark County tells WW that Hunzeker was working “full time” four days a week.
Hunzeker earned approximately $45 an hour, which amounts to a $90,000 salary.
Beginning Feb. 27, Hunzeker was put back on Portland’s payroll, earning a $107,744 base salary according to a spokesperson for the city’s Bureau of Human Resources.
That means Hunzeker earned two nearly six-figure salaries for almost two months, an impressive accomplishment for an officer who was fired in disgrace only a year earlier.
It remains unclear what the Portland Police Bureau was paying Hunzeker to do. There’s no indication he was on patrol in Portland—after all, he was on duty in Clark County four days a week. The Portland Police Bureau has not responded to questions about Hunzeker’s assigned duties. (Hunzeker was on medical leave in Portland for two of the six weeks when he held two jobs, The Oregonian reported just after this story went to press.)
To some observers, that’s especially galling given how regularly the bureau bemoans a shortage of officers.
“I think it’s a farce for them to complain about lack of staffing,” says Juan Chavez, a lawyer at the Oregon Justice Resource Center.
Chavez represents clients suing the city over police abuses. And he noted that Hunzeker’s latest antics might result in an even bigger payout in one of the city’s highest-profile embarrassments.
In 2021, Commissioner Hardesty sued the city, the union, Brian Hunzeker and another cop, demanding $5 million as a result of the leak’s damage to her reputation. (Hardesty was voted out of office the following year. In legal filings, Hunzeker has denied much of the allegations, saying his actions were “within the course and scope of his employment.”)
Chavez says Hunzeker’s undisclosed moonlighting could influence the size of the city’s final payout. “You can argue that this guy needs to be taught a lesson because he’s clearly of the belief that he’s above the law,” he says.
WW wanted to hear Hunzeker’s side of the story. He was not an easy man to find.
So a reporter went to his house in Ridgefield, Wash., a small but rapidly growing Vancouver suburb that is a favored hometown for Portland cops.
His neighborhood exudes a quiet Americana. The streets are lined with American flags. Police cruisers dot the curbs. A “thin blue line” flag flies over the garage of Hunzeker’s home, and a small dog barked at the front door as the reporter approached.
The embattled cop met the reporter in his driveway. He declined to comment.