Mercury Staff

A letter from the Portland Police Bureau's (PPB) internal affairs department has confirmed that three police officers—including former police union head Brian Hunzeker—were responsible for the information leak that led to several media outlets incorrectly reporting that City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty had committed a hit-and-run in March.

The October letter, first obtained by OPB, details how a false accusation wound up being reported as fact by the Oregonian and several conservative media channels.

The PPB investigation, which was initiated on Hardesty's request, centers on a 911 call made March 3, in which a caller accused Hardesty of rear-ending her vehicle in Southeast Portland before fleeing the scene. While PPB later found that the caller had incorrectly identified Hardesty as the suspect, the investigation found that officers wasted no time in leaking this information as fact.

The investigation names three officers: Hunzeker, who was president of the Portland Police Association (PPA) at the time of the incident, Ken Le, and Kerri Ottoman.

According to the investigation, Hunzeker called a reporter to share the news of this alleged crime and then sent that reporter a copy of the 911 call transcript. PPB Commander Kristina Jones, who reviewed the incident for PPB's internal affairs division, noted that Hunzeker "admitted" that these acts violated PPB's directives. Based on media reports from the day, it can be concluded that the reporter Hunzeker contacted was employed by the Oregonian.

Jones found that Hunzeker had leaked this information in retaliation for Hardesty speaking negatively about PPB officers. Specifically, Hunzeker told investigators that the leak "was in response to Commissioner Hardesty’s false allegation about officers setting fires during the civil unrest," a claim that Hardesty made in 2020 and later apologized for.

The investigation also confirmed that Le shared a screen shot of the 911 call transcript with his friend, a 911 dispatcher with the Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC) who was off-duty at the time. This action violated PPB policy.

And, PPB found that Ottoman leaked the same call record screen shot to her friend, Gabe Johnson, the director of a conservative group called "Coalition to Save Portland." Ottoman explained to investigators that she was "venting" when she shared this information. At the time, Johnson shared this information on his group's Facebook page, and the news quickly spread to other online conservative outlets.

Jones concluded that none of the officers' actions were racially motivated, a concern that Hardesty had raised in her initial complaint.

This letter supports claims made by Hardesty in a lawsuit she filed against PPA, the city of Portland, Hunzeker, and Ottoman on December 13. The lawsuit alleges that the leak was racially and politically motivated, as Hardesty is the first Black woman to sit on City Council and is longtime critic of the police bureau.

"The leaks of information were made with actual malice because they were done with either knowledge that the statements were false or with reckless disregard of whether the statements were false or not," reads the suit.

The lawsuit does not name Le, but does accuse an unidentified member of BOEC for sharing the false report with their colleagues, identifying the information as “Juicy Juicy." The lawsuit asks for $3 million from the PPA, $1 million from Hunzeker, $1 million from Ottoman, and $1—"an award of nominal damages”—from the city of Portland.

While the internal affairs investigation is now concluded, the bureau has not made public what discipline the officers faced for their misconduct. All three officers remain employed by PPB. However, in March, Hunzeker resigned as PPA president, citing a "serious, isolated mistake" that was not "driven by malice."

Others at the city have already been reprimanded. Previous reporting by Willamette Week found that BOEC suspended three BOEC dispatchers in July for their role in spreading this leaked information.

The October letter was made public Wednesday after months of back-and-forth between Hardesty's lawyers, the city attorney's office, and media outlets. OPB reports that its initial request for the letter was denied by the city attorney's office, but OPB's subsequent appeal to the Multnomah County District Attorney's office was approved this week. According to OPB, DA Mike Schmidt ruled that releasing the letter was in the public interest.

Correction: A previous version of this story expressed that Captain Tina Jones spoke directly with the officers under investigation, when she was only reviewing the information collected by other PPB investigators who had interviewed them.