Brian Hunzeker, the Portland police officer fired last year by Mayor Ted Wheeler for leaking an incident report falsely identifying City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty as the suspect in a hit-and-run, will return to the force.
A state labor arbitrator has ordered Hunzeker reinstated, with a one-week suspension.
“An injustice can be done when a good police officer is terminated for political or other reasons not justified by the facts. It is this arbitrator’s conclusion that the discharge of [Hunzeker] falls into that category,” the arbitrator, Timothy Williams, wrote.
Hunzeker, who had resigned as president of the Portland police union, was fired in February 2022, almost a year after texting an Oregonian reporter a screenshot of a March 3, 2021, police report that wrongly identified Hardesty as a suspect in the hit-and-run. (In fact, the woman whose car was damaged misidentified the other driver when she called in the report, which rapidly spread in law enforcement circles.) Hardesty, the first Black woman to serve on the Portland City Council, was an outspoken critic of the Police Bureau, and city investigators concluded that criticism had been a factor in Hunzeker’s decision to leak the report.
“The responses you provided during your first interview suggested that at least one reason you provided the information to [Oregonian reporter Maxine] Bernstein was to retaliate against Commissioner Hardesty for her statements and political positions she has taken against Portland Police officers, many of whom are [union] members,” read Hunzeker’s dismissal letter.
At the time, Police Chief Chuck Lovell argued for a 12-week suspension. But Wheeler overruled him and fired Hunzeker. “Officer Hunzeker’s actions harmed Commissioner Hardesty and harmed the community’s trust in the Police Bureau,” Wheeler said at the time.
Hunzeker’s union, the Portland Police Association, immediately challenged the firing, calling it “disproportionate” and “out of keeping with the standards of discipline in the Bureau.” The arbitrator ultimately agreed.
Williams, the arbitrator, concluded that although Hunzeker should be disciplined for violating confidentiality rules, the city was unable to prove that his actions were retaliatory. His “motive was public discourse,” Williams wrote.
“As the union emphasizes, political discourse cannot be defined broadly as prohibited retaliation,” he added.
In a statement sent to WW earlier today, Wheeler says: “While I stand behind my decision in this case, I respect the legal process. Meaningful accountability can take many forms, even when it may not look exactly the way we initially envisioned it.”
In a statement today, the PPA called the leak an “isolated mistake.”
“My sincere hope is that we recognize and embrace this opportunity to build upon reasonable discourse,” says current union president Sgt. Aaron Schmautz.
Hardesty, who lost a bid for reelection in November, has sued the police union and the city for $5 million. That lawsuit is now in the discovery phase. She could not immediately be reached for comment.