PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A federal civil rights investigation will be launched into the 2017 wrongful arrest of a black man who says he was targeted because he complained about a racially hostile work environment at a Portland towing company.
The U.S. Department of Justice confirmed Wednesday it’s investigating accusations of criminal wrongdoing by West Linn police in building a questionable theft case against Michael Fesser.
A lawsuit originally filed in 2017 accuses former West Linn Police Chief Terry Timeus of ordering two sergeants to investigate and build a case against 48-year-old Fesser. The lawsuit claimed Timeus was acting on behalf of Eric Benson — a personal friend who owned a Portland towing company where Fesser was employed. Benson allegedly told Timeus he was worried Fesser might sue him for racial discrimination so Timeus was having his officers build a case that Fesser was stealing from the company.
The involved officers eventually arrested Fesser and detained him without probable cause, the lawsuit alleged.
The case led West Linn last week to settle a federal discrimination and wrongful arrest lawsuit by Fesser for $600,000.
Fesser and his attorney have accused Portland police officers of assisting West Linn police when they arrested Fesser in 2017 — a claim supported by pages of text messages revealed in court documents.
Clackamas County District Attorneys John Foote and Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill released the following statement on Wednesday:
“Clackamas and Multnomah County District Attorneys, John Foote and Rod Underhill, have requested that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon conduct the federal criminal investigations of the Michael Fesser/West Linn Police Department matter. U.S. Attorney Bill Williams has graciously agreed to assume that responsibility. His office will investigate any possible federal crimes that might have been committed in this matter. Both the Clackamas County and Multnomah County District Attorney’s Offices will fully investigate any possible “Brady” issues that are related to these issues. Further, any possible state criminal investigations will be conducted by either the U.S. Attorney’s Office or the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office. We will work closely with each other through this process.”
Fesser’s attorney said Wednesday he couldn’t comment on the federal investigation but hopes “genuine accountability comes soon.”
KOIN 6 reporter Jenny Young also visited Timeus’ home later the same day but the man who opened the door promptly closed it in her face. She also knocked on Benson’s door but a woman locked it from inside.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.