When visitors arrive in Portland seeking to sample food carts or hear ghost stories, many head to Pioneer Courthouse Square and look for the brightly colored polo shirts of Portland Walking Tours.
Guides at the 15-year-old company lead up to 10 tours a day—of Portland's food carts, of hidden chocolate delicacies and eclectic cocktails, and of the Shanghai Tunnels, the secret 19th-century tunnel system underneath Old Town.
"We've always had really good luck and hear really good things from the clients we put on their tours," says Marcus Hibdon, a spokesman for Travel Portland. "They're certainly well-respected."
But Portland Walking Tours is harboring its own secret.
The company's operations manager says its owner, David Schargel, physically assaulted him Feb. 13, then quickly warned employees not to talk about the altercation outside of the company, alleging instead the manager had attacked him. Both men filed police reports against each other, and the manager is now suing the company for negligence and Schargel for assault.
Bob Fisher, the manager, sued Schargel and his company March 15 in Multnomah County Circuit Court, seeking $750,000 for assault and battery, and negligence.
"When I talk about it, I break out into sweat and my heart starts racing," says Fisher. "I'm trying to laugh so as not to cry."
The upheaval is having an effect. Guides have fled the company, according to several sources, reducing head count from 30 to fewer than 10.
WW spoke to six former Portland Walking Tours employees. Three of them say Schargel's encounters with them included vague, foreboding threats in the days leading up to, and the days following, the attack. They allege he told them repeatedly: "You don't know me. You don't know me at all." He left one woman several voicemails following the assault, telling her Fisher said he was "going to go get [her]" after the assault. (The former employees requested anonymity, citing fear of Schargel.)
In an interview with WW, Schargel, 54, would not offer his account of what happened Feb. 13, but he did deny assaulting Fisher.
He says he has filed a police report, which charges Fisher with attacking him, and a civil lawsuit against the manager, claiming he still has thousands, "if not tens of thousands," of dollars' worth of company property.
The Multnomah County District Attorney's Office told WW Schargel did file a police report about the altercation. He also reached out to the DA's office, wanting to pursue a criminal case. The DA tells WW the office investigated and concluded there was insufficient evidence to charge Fisher.
WW has found no court records of a civil lawsuit filed by Schargel against Fisher.
Fisher worked for Schargel for 11 years as a salaried employee, and he says, for most of them, he was happy. When Fisher, 47, broke his femur in a bike accident shortly after joining the company part time, Schargel offered him a full-time customer service job that allowed him to work at home.
"I used to joke, 'How many other jobs can a guy get who can't walk and can't wear pants?'" Fisher says.
Fisher says he was Schargel's first full-time employee. "To be honest, this is a person who I look to as a father figure," says Fisher. "A mentor. I always thought we had a really great relationship."
Fisher says he noticed odd behavior by Schargel in the weeks leading up to the attack. Fisher says Schargel told him several times that some guides were stealing from the company by extending tour lengths by five to 10 minutes. (Fisher says this was nonsensical; no matter the tour length, the company pays its employees in three-hour allotments, so a longer tour wouldn't mean more pay.) A week before the assault Fisher says Schargel asked him to compile a list of all the company's employees, ranked by trustworthiness.
On Feb. 13, Fisher came to the company office at Pioneer Courthouse Square and encountered Schargel shortly before closing time. Fisher claims Schargel demanded his company-owned laptop password and the two men proceeded to argue over the laptop. Schargel snapped, says Fisher, and suspended him for 12 days; he then demanded that Fisher hand over all company property, including his smartphone.
Fisher says he wouldn't unlock the phone for Schargel. Fisher tells WW that was the moment "all hell broke loose."
Fisher says Schargel started bumping him with his chest and clawing at his arms while yelling, "Rape! Rape! Rape!"
"He tried to rip the phone from my hand, but also was letting his body go limp, so he sort of half-pulled my body to the floor," Fisher says. Fisher is much larger than Schargel—6-foot-2, 280 pounds, according to Fisher. Schargel is 5-foot-6, 175 pounds, according to police records.
Fisher says he escaped Schargel's grip and started to walk out the door, but was again attacked from behind as Schargel rammed into Fisher's legs, still yelling, "Rape!" A security guard arrived about 30 seconds later, Fisher says, and Schargel let go, yelling at the security officer to arrest Fisher.
Photos taken after the alleged assault, which Fisher's attorney, Michael Fuller, shared with WW, shows a swollen leg and bite marks on Fisher's hand.
Later that night, Fisher went to the downtown precinct on Southwest 2nd Avenue to file an assault report. Fisher says the officer on duty declined to investigate.
Police reports reviewed by WW say they were dispatched to Portland Walking Tours shortly before 5 pm on Feb. 13. Schargel told the cops that when he suspended Fisher, "He attacked me." Schargel described Fisher doing "elbow strikes" across Schargel's body at least 15 times, and said he had screamed "rape" to grab the attention of security guards. He had bloody scrapes on top of both hands, the police report says.
A follow-up report shows a Portland police officer spoke two days later to a security guard with Pacific Patrol Services, which provides security services for Pioneer Courthouse Square. The guard said he walked into the company office to find both Schargel and Fisher on the floor. He added that "it appeared that Fisher was 'crawling' away and [Schargel] was holding onto Fisher's ankles."
In the following days, Schargel sent a string of forum and voicemail messages to employees, say five employees who shared those messages with WW.
"Bob snapped viciously attacked me and pummeled me repeatedly for a few minutes. I have a headache and MAY have a concussion," he wrote in one message. At the end of that message, the third he'd sent since the alleged assault, he demanded that all employees acknowledge him. "ROLL CALL please!" he wrote, "I need for everybody to reply right here, right now. REPLY NOW."
Former employees say they felt threatened. Roughly 20 employees quit in the days following the assault.
"That was definitely not the intention," Schargel says of the group messages. "The idea by having the forum is to not have one-on-one conversations, it's to have one-to-many conversations. From my standpoint, there was never a [tone of] 'this is anti-Bob' or 'this is anti-you getting a job.'"
Screenshots show that someone at Portland Walking Tours relabeled Fisher's profile on the company forum with the title "Abuser."
Meanwhile, Schargel maintains his company is doing well. On a recent sunny Friday, a smiling Schargel checked visitors in for the morning's tours. Several minutes later, eight people circled around one of his remaining guides, eager to learn Portland's mysteries.