Portland Police Commander Violated Elections Law by Opposing Candidacy of District Attorney Mike Schmidt, State Investigation Finds

The investigation determined that Cmdr. Erica Hurley promoted the recall of Schmidt last October and opposed his candidacy in January—both times during “work hours.”

A police cruiser near Mall 205 in Southeast Portland. (Sam Gehrke)

The Oregon Secretary of State’s Elections Division has proposed a $225 civil penalty for Portland Police Bureau Commander Erica Hurley after its investigation determined that Hurley violated state elections law with comments she made on two occasions about Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt.

In a Nov. 22 letter, the Elections Division wrote to Hurley that, “by opposing the candidacy and promoting the recall of Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt,” she violated an Oregon statute pertaining to political campaigning by public employees.

“You violated [Oregon law] twice because you promoted the recall of Mr. Schmidt on October 8, 2020, and opposed the candidacy of Mr. Schmidt on January 14, 2021, while on the job during work hours and while acting in your official capacity,” the Elections Division wrote.

The agency opened an investigation after it received a complaint on March 17 that was prompted by WW’s story published that same day. The story outlined comments Hurley made in January 2021 during a Lents Neighborhood Livability Association meeting.

The Elections Division also cited comments Hurley made in October 2020, also during a Lents Neighborhood Livability Association meeting. The letter says that, on both occasions, Hurley made the comments during “work hours.”

Related: A Precinct Commander for the Portland Police Bureau Suggested Residents Should Vote Out the District Attorney for Being Soft on Crime

During the January meeting, Hurley suggested to neighborhood residents that if they wanted to see more arrests for drug-related offenses, they would need to unseat Schmidt, who won the election on a progressive platform of criminal justice reform, gaining 76% of the vote in May 2020. (She was also wearing her full uniform, badge and gun when she made the comments.)

“So the drug activity that you see, I can do nothing about,” Hurley said in January. “I can’t arrest them. I can’t send them to jail. I can’t do anything. I can’t control that. Who controls that is you, because, when the DA’s office asks what you want done, you need to send emails to the district attorney and phone calls to the district attorney. When the vote comes up again—because, the reality is, he won the vote with over 70% of the people—you have to vote no, right? And you have to vote.”

The statute that the Elections Division says Hurley violated, ORS 260.432(2), states that “no public employee shall solicit any money, service etc. to promote or oppose candidates or measures while on the job during working hours.”

“[Oregon law] prohibits a public employee from promoting or opposing the recall of a public office holder or the nomination or election of a candidate while on the job during work hours,” the Elections Division wrote in its letter to Hurley. “Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt held office and met the statutory definition of ‘candidate’ during the period relevant to the complaint. Mr. Schmidt accepted contributions and made expenditures before and after October 8, 2020, and after January 14, 2021. While to our knowledge Mr. Schmidt had not announced his candidacy for reelection (or for election to any other office), [state law] recognizes that this factor is irrelevant in this context.”

Hurley has the right to request a hearing before an administrative law judge if she wishes to challenge the secretary of state’s determination. An attorney for Hurley did not respond immediately to WW’s request for comment.

The DA’s office and the Police Bureau did not immediately respond to WW’s requests for comment.

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