Jo Ann Hardesty Settles Lawsuit With Police Union Over Hit-and-Run Leak

The $680,000 settlement marks the end of a bitter, two-year battle between a longtime critic of the Portland Police Bureau and its union.

Former City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty celebrates a strong primary-election showing in 2022. (Blake Benard)

Former City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has agreed to settle her lawsuit against the Portland Police Association and two officers over a 2021 incident in which the union president falsely implicated her in a hit-and-run.

The defendants in the suit agreed to pay Hardesty $680,000. The settlement agreement marks the end of a bitter, two-year legal battle that would have gone to trial next week.

Hardesty filed the lawsuit against the police union, its former president Brian Hunzeker, and a Portland Police Bureau officer named Kerri Ottoman in December 2021, alleging defamation, discrimination, retaliation and public disclosure of private facts, among other allegations.

The lawsuit was part of the fallout from an extraordinary incident in the spring of 2021, when then-PPA president Brian Hunzaker leaked a 911 dispatch record to The Oregonian. The document linked Hardesty to the hit-and-run—but the driver who was hit had mistakenly identified the Black woman driving the other car as Hardesty. WW’s reporting found a tangle of police officers, emergency dispatchers and conservative pundits gleefully sharing the false information about Hardesty, a longtime police critic and the city’s first Black woman to be elected city commissioner.

Mayor Ted Wheeler fired Hunzeker, but he kept his job until WW discovered he was moonlighting as a beat cop in another state. Hardesty lost her bid for reelection to Commissioner Rene Gonzalez last fall.

Hardesty’s lawsuit demanded $5 million in damages. The court battle soon threatened to reveal information that neither Hardesty nor the police union wanted released. (The city of Portland was also listed as an original defendant. Mayor Ted Wheeler issued a public apology to Hardesty this summer and the city agreed to pay $5,000 in legal fees.) KGW-TV first reported the settlement amount today.

The attorney representing Hardesty, Matthew Ellis, tells WW that the two parties haven’t yet signed the settlement agreement but expect to within three weeks’ time. Hardesty did not immediately respond to a request for comment from WW.

Aaron Schmautz, now president of the police union, said the PPA is “pleased to have this matter behind it,” and says the union’s insurance company decided to settle the case.

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