A Black Oregon man is set to receive a $600,000 payout from the city of West Linn after he claims he was subjected to unlawful surveillance and wrongful arrest in retaliation for voicing concerns to his boss about the racial discrimination he was experiencing at work.
Michael Fesser, 48, sued the city and several members of the West Linn Police Department last year for malicious prosecution, false arrest and invasion of privacy, among other offenses, NBC News reports.
In his complaint, Fesser alleges he was the target of a rogue operation by former West Linn Police Chief Terry Timeus and his officers. The brazen misconduct reportedly included using audio and video technology to spy on Fesser while he was at work — surveillance he says was conducted without a warrant or probable cause.
The Portland man also claims he was falsely arrested by West Linn with the help of Portland police and had several of his personal belongings seized before being thrown in jail.
Fesser, a father of eight, said the ordeal has caused him great emotional distress and impacted his family financially.
“Ever since that arrest, I was terrified to go to West Linn,” he told The Oregonian newspaper. “This has to be exposed, and it has to stop.”
West Linn police started investigating Fesser in February 2017 after he complained to Eric Benson, his former boss and owner of A&B Towing, about the racist harassment he was suffering from co-workers. In court documents, Fesser said the bullying included racial slurs and insults.
Not long after Fesser raised these concerns, Benson contacted his close friend and fishing buddy Chief Timeus and persuaded him to look into claims that Fesser was stealing from the company. Fesser managed the company’s car auctions and would record sales and receive deposits and payments from bidders as well as handle cash transactions.
Benson reportedly told Timeus he’d called on him because Portland police wouldn’t respond to his concerns that he should have been earning more from the auctions, according to The Oregonian.
Fesser’s complaint vehemently denies the theft accusations, calling them unsubstantiated. In a statement, his attorney Paul Buchanan blasted the police department for partaking in “jocular, old-boy-style racism” against his client.
“This case vividly illustrates a ready willingness on the part of the West Linn police to abuse the enormous power they have been given, and a casual, jocular, old-boy-style racism of the kind [we] Oregonians tend to want to associate with the Deep South rather than our own institutions,” Buchanan told the newspaper.
The case file obtained by The Oregonian includes a trove of racist and crude text messages exchanged between West Linn police and Fesser’s boss at the time. According to the complaint, a local detective charged with heading the investigation into Fesser tried deleting the texts and insisted they weren’t racist and homophobic.
The offensive messages were later uncovered on another phone, however.
In another text Det. Tony Reeves, who was involved in Fesser’s wrongful arrest, suggested that Fesser be arrested before he proceeded with the discrimination suit against his job so it didn’t appear retaliatory.
It was only after Fesser filed his lawsuit in 2018 that he learned the police investigation into the alleged theft was a favor to his boss, the complaint explains. He would be arrested and jailed on “baseless” criminal charges in an investigation the suit describes as “racially motivated, retaliatory, extra-jurisdictional and an egregious abuse of the power with which the police are entrusted.”
After his release, Fesser found out he’d been fired from his job.
The City of West Linn has since reached a $600,000 settlement with the plaintiff. It’s believed to be one of the largest in the state resulting from a wrongful arrest claim.
The West Linn Police Department has said the agreement “is not an admission of liability.” The Oregonian reported Wednesday that the department has no plans to re-investigate Detective Reeves for trying to conceal the racist texts, as it had already taken “swift and appropriate disciplinary personnel action” when the workplace discrimination was first reported.
Fesser — who also settled a suit for $415,000 with his employer — said he’s relieved the case is finally resolved and is looking forward to moving on.
“I have forgiven those individuals in that community,” he said. “I’ve forgiven them but I haven’t forgotten.”
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