The organization that disclosed information from a leaked incident report on Thursday, falsely alleging Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty was involved in a hit-and-run, claims personal and financial ties to the Portland Police Bureau.
The group, called the Coalition to Save Portland, emerged during the 2020 mayoral campaign. A Portland man named Gabriel Johnson formed a political action committee with that name on Oct. 14, 2020.
Although the PAC attempted to make itself a player in the Portland mayor's race, campaign finance records show that it has raised less than $1,000 since its founding. The organization has issued periodic press releases—including one touting Johnson's close relationship with the Portland Police Bureau—but until this week, it never did anything particularly newsworthy.
That changed Thursday morning, when the Coalition to Save Portland posted an allegation on its Facebook page that Hardesty was suspected in a hit-and-run crash in Southeast Portland.
Reached by phone Friday, Johnson says an employee of the Portland Police Bureau, whom he declined to identify, sent him the information on Thursday morning.
"I have made a public comment that it was someone in the bureau," Johnson told WW. "It was not given to me by the chief. It would be inappropriate for him to give that to me. It would be inappropriate for any of his lieutenants to give that to me."
The coalition has been a staunch supporter of police officers.
In September 2020, around the time of the group's formation, Johnson presented a $2,500 check to the Portland Police Bureau's chaplains group. Jeff Reynolds, a coalition member and former chair of the Multnomah County Republican Party, posted the video of the event to YouTube.
The video shows Johnson presenting a check to a small crowd inside the bureau's North Precinct. The video shows former Portland Police Association president Daryl Turner seated near the front of the room. At least three uniformed officers appear to be in attendance as Johnson presents the check, based on video and photos.
“This is something that hopefully will start a fund to help you guys help first responders,” Johnson said at the event. “This is just a heartfelt thank you. I wish we could do more. But you guys don’t hear it enough. I’m sure your chaplains work overtime just like you guys are working overtime to really make this a better place for us.”
In a statement to WW, PPA president Brian Hunziker said the event was a membership appreciation lunch coordinated by the union.
"The Coalition to Save Portland's presentation of a check to the Portland Police Bureau chaplains was independent of the PPA," Hunziker said. "To my knowledge, the PPA has neither accepted money from nor donated to the Coalition to Save Portland."
Johnson says that was the first time he met Turner in person, and that the two exchanged phone numbers at the event.
Three months after the donation, in December 2020, the Coalition to Save Portland sent out a press release written by Johnson criticizing the city's response to the armed occupation of a foreclosed property, called the Red House, by leftist activists.
"I have a good relationship with the Portland Police Bureau, so I immediately contacted Chief Lovel [sic]," Johnson said in the press release. "We had an urgent dialogue, the goal of which is to clear the occupied zone so neighbors can return to a livable situation without the violence that no one wants."
Johnson says he met Lovell at an event in mid-December called "I Choose Love PDX." At the event, Johnson says, he and Lovell exchanged phone numbers. A few days later, he called Lovell to express his concerns relating to the Red House. Johnson says he later texted the chief wishing him a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year's, and that the chief responded.
The connections to the Police Bureau raise more questions about how the incident report was leaked to a right-wing Facebook group, which first announced the incident report early Thursday morning in a Facebook Live video, hours after the report had been made, titled "Scandal at City Council. Guess who? Commissioner Hardesty."
On Thursday afternoon, the PPB announced that it had ruled Hardesty out as a suspect in the alleged crash. The bureau wrote that a caller made a report to the police at 11:24 pm about an incident that allegedly occurred at 4:48 pm.
This afternoon, the mayor's office launched an investigation into who in law enforcement had leaked the allegation against Hardesty.