After five months on the job, Brian Hunzeker has abruptly resigned as president of Portland Police Association (PPA), the union representing Portland's rank-and-file police.
The reason remains a bit hazy, but according to a PPA press release sent Tuesday afternoon, it has to do with the city's investigation into how City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty became a suspect in a March 3 hit-and-run case she had nothing to do with—and how misinformation about the alleged crime spread so quickly.
"Over the last 24 hours, we learned that Portland Police Association (PPA) President Brian Hunzeker made a serious, isolated mistake related to the Police Bureau’s investigation into the alleged hit-and-run by Commissioner Hardesty," reads the press release, penned by PPA's executive board. "Brian’s mistake was not driven by malice. But it was a serious mistake. He has held himself to account by resigning his position as PPA President effective immediately."
The release includes no other information on what this mistake was. But the statement suggests he or others within the PPA may have played a role in sharing information about the hit-and-run with members of the public, in hopes of undermining a longtime critic of the police union.
According to Portland Police Bureau (PPB) reports, Hardesty was implicated in the Southeast Portland hit-and-run simply because the victim in the fender-bender told officers she was certain Hardesty was driving the car that hit her. The victim did not offer any other identifying information to support this allegation, yet officers entered Hardesty's name into their report as the main suspect.
Only after investigating the victim's claims further did PPB learn that she had simply mistook another Black female motorist for Hardesty. But by then, it was too late: The initial report, which included Hardesty as a suspect, had been leaked to a local conservative group called the "Coalition to Save Portland" who quickly shared the information on their Facebook page (where they've villainized Hardesty in the past). Within minutes, the allegations against the first Black woman elected to Portland City Council were being shared as fact across far-right social media channels and blogs.
After PPB cleared Hardesty as a suspect, Mayor Ted Wheeler called for an independent investigation into how this case of a mistaken identity was perpetuated in the PPB's report and so hastily leaked to the public. Hunzeker reacted to this news on the PPA's Facebook page on March 6.
"It’s unconscionable for the Mayor to prioritize a case of mistaken identity over the legitimate community concerns like nightly shootings, violence, arson, and vandalism," wrote Hunzeker.
He then accused Hardesty of spreading misinformation of her own, pointing to an incident in 2020 when Hardesty falsely accused PPB officers of setting fire to their own buildings during Portland's heated racial justice protests. (Hardesty later apologized for the accusations.)
Hunzeker has also spoken out against Hardesty during recent PPA contract negotiations with the City of Portland, accusing her campaign to establish a new police misconduct oversight board of misleading Portland voters. His positions on Hardesty are in-line with statements shared by the Coalition to Save Portland's social media accounts.
The Coalition to Save Portland claims they received the original hit-and-run report naming Hardesty by a PPB officer, who they've declined to identify. All PPB sworn rank-and-file officers are members of the PPA, which the coalition boasts a close relationship with. The Coalition to Save Portland's social media pages regularly applaud the PPA's political stances, and have been invited guests at past PPA events. The group is also friendly with Daryl Turner, the longtime PPA president who retired from the position in October and now, according to the PPA, will be returning to the role in Hunzeker's absence.
"We acknowledge the need to improve, starting from within," reads the PPA press release. "To help with that process, we have asked Daryl Turner to return to the PPA as Executive Director in the interim to help our union rebuild trust within our membership, with City Hall and the Police Bureau, and with the community."
It doesn't appear Hunzeker's resignation will impact his job as a PPB officer, at least for now.
According to a brief press statement from the PPB, "Officer Hunzeker remains an employee of the Portland Police Bureau, and will receive an assignment within the bureau to be determined."
PPB spokesperson Greg Pashley said Hunzeker has been reassigned to a patrol position in the PPB's North Precinct. Hunzeker also remains the board president of Oregon Coalition of Police and Sheriffs (ORCOPS), a law enforcement lobbyist organization.
Hardesty's office told the Mercury Tuesday they learned of Hunzeker's resignation through the press release, and did not know what particular mistake the PPA is alluding to in its statement. They have not received an apology from Hunzeker.
Wheeler, who serves as Portland's police commissioner as well as mayor, pressed PPA for more information in a media statement following the announcement of Hunzeker's resignation.
"I appreciate the association’s call for accountability, but his resignation raises significant questions that remain unanswered," said Wheeler. "Mr. Hunzeker has given no reason for his resignation except that he made a serious mistake about an ongoing criminal investigation. As the police commissioner, I demand to know what that mistake was."