Fired West Linn cop who pursued wrongful arrest of Michael Fesser sentenced to probation, diversity training

West Linn Police Department

A state prosecutor didn't consult or alert Michael Fesser, the man who was wrongfully arrested, about Tony Reeves' negotiated plea or sentence ahead of the hearing. "It's a slap in the face," Fesser said. "I'm beyond upset, mad and disappointed."


Fired West Linn police Sgt. Tony Reeves was sentenced to probation and ordered to complete community service and cultural sensitivity training after pleading no contest this week to first-degree official misconduct for his role in the wrongful arrest of Michael Fesser of Portland.

Reeves, 43, appeared by phone from his home in Montana for the approximately 35-minute hearing Wednesday in Multnomah County Circuit Court.

Judge Michael Greenlick accepted the negotiated plea on the single misdemeanor charge and the sentence jointly recommended by a state assistant attorney general and Reeves’ lawyer.

Reeves arrested Fesser, a Black man who lived in Portland, on a bogus theft charge at the behest of then-Police Chief Terry Timeus five years ago. Timeus pushed the investigation of Fesser as a favor for a friend.

Greenlick ordered Reeves to complete a year and a half of bench probation, meaning he’s under the supervision of the judge for that period. He also must complete 85 hours of community service with a nonprofit organization and 15 hours of cultural diversity and sensitivity training within six months. He must not apply for any law enforcement job in Oregon or any other state during his probation and must have no contact with Fesser.

The judge asked Assistant Attorney General Tobias Tingleaf if he had consulted the “victim in the case” about the outcome. Tingleaf said he hadn’t contacted Fesser because he considered the state and the public to be Reeves’ victims.

Fesser said that decision felt like “a slap in the face.” He said he was flabbergasted that the prosecutor didn’t consider him the victim.

“I’m beyond upset, mad and disappointed,” Fesser told The Oregonian/OregonLive. “There’s no justice.”

Tingleaf took the case because the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office had a conflict, having initially filed theft charges against Fesser based partly on Reeves’ testimony to a grand jury.

Reeves is the only officer prosecuted for a crime in the indictment and arrest of Fesser in 2017. Federal, state and local agencies began investigations into the arrest shortly after The Oregonian/OregonLive reported in February 2020 that the city of West Linn paid $600,000 to Fesser to settle his civil rights suit against its police force.

The city fired Reeves on June 16, 2020, after an investigation by the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office. The district attorney’s office found that Reeves colluded with Timeus to pursue an unsupported arrest of Fesser as a favor to a personal friend of the chief’s. The friend was Fesser’s employer at a Portland towing company.

The district attorney’s investigation also found that Reeves withheld key evidence, engaged in an illegal recording of Fesser, deleted racist and vulgar text messages he received from Fesser’s boss on his cellphone and disclosed Fesser’s confidential attorney-client information to Fesser’s boss.

Fesser’s civil litigation uncovered that his former employer, Eric Benson, owner of A&B Towing in Southeast Portland who lived in West Linn, was a fishing buddy of Timeus.

Fesser said the arrest was in retaliation for his complaints about a racially hostile work environment at the towing company. Multnomah County prosecutors dropped theft charges against Fesser, and Benson and his company paid $415,000 to Fesser to settle a separate discrimination and retaliation suit.

Investigators for the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office found that Reeves failed to document in his police reports that Benson and Timeus had a personal relationship. Investigators also said Reeves didn’t document racist text messages that Benson sent him and Reeves intentionally deleted the texts from his police-issued cellphone.

In addition, Reeves didn’t disclose that he took a confidential letter from Fesser’s car during the arrest in Portland and shared it with Fesser’s boss. Fesser in the letter discussed his claims against Benson with his employment discrimination lawyer.

In July 2021, a state board stripped Reeves of his police certification in Oregon for life for his dishonesty and discriminatory behavior in Fesser’s arrest.

According to an arrest warrant affidavit unsealed Friday, Reeves didn’t disclose evidence to a grand jury that would have thrown the case against Fesser into question. In particular, he didn’t share text messages he received from Fesser’s boss, who wrote that witnesses who claimed theft by Fesser “are dirty,” according to the affidavit, written by Keri Jasso, an Oregon Department of Justice special agent.

Nor did Reeves share text messages in which Benson discussed concerns that Fesser might file a workplace discrimination suit, revealing possible bias on the part of Benson to pursue Fesser’s arrest, Jasso wrote. Further, Reeves turned over to Benson a letter from Fesser’s car that Fesser wrote to his lawyer about his discrimination concerns at the towing company, the affidavit said.

The text messages were uncovered by Fesser and his civil attorney Paul Buchanan, who obtained them from Benson’s phone as part of discovery in the civil case against Benson.

Reeves testified in a deposition that he deleted those text messages from his phone, the affidavit said.

“Reeves had a duty to disclose all exculpatory evidence he obtained during his investigation,” Jasso wrote. “Reeves did not disclose the information and the non-disclosure benefitted the alleged victim while harming the individual under investigation.”

David Lesh, Reeves’ defense lawyer, told the judge that the case against Reeves was “not as black and white” as the state alleged, but Reeves wanted to resolve it. Reeves didn’t comment on the charge or facts of the case.

Reeves will volunteer with a veterans-related nonprofit in Montana and attend two classes on diversity and inclusion through the University of Virginia and an online course from the Essex Business School in Britain, Lesh told the court. The judge approved the courses.

Greenlick said he’d need confirmation that Reeves completed the community service hours and diversity training by Jan. 15.

He told Reeves that Black people are treated in a disparate way through every stage of the criminal justice system, from first police contacts to sentencing decisions.

“It is my hope you’re taking these classes with an eye of understanding another perspective and incorporating that in your life,” Greenlick said. “Mostly, I just want you to learn something from it.”

Reeves also must pay a $200 fine and submit to fingerprinting and a booking photo by Sept. 7 in Multnomah County. Reeves anticipates being back in Oregon in late August to comply, Lesh said.

In a written statement, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said, “I am glad this matter is finally formally concluded. But it will be understandable if there are those in the Fesser family, Mr Fesser himself, or other impacted community members who feel dissatisfied. I sincerely hope this case will serve as a ‘wake-up call’ that we can and must do better as a society.”

“There is simply no place in the law enforcement community for racism or race-based bias,” the statement said. “Those thinking of becoming police officers who cannot set aside their biases simply should not enter this profession. Once they become sworn officers they will be held to account and will not be welcome to remain if they do not live up to this basic standard.”

When asked why Fesser wasn’t informed about the plea and sentencing ahead of time, Rosenblum’s spokesperson Kristina Edmunson reiterated that the state Justice Department prosecutor believed that the public, in general, was the victim of Reeves’ official misconduct.

“While technically that may be correct, given the long drawn-out history of this matter and the impact of the defendant’s misconduct on Mr. Fesser, we regret not making him aware of the negotiated plea and sentence,” Edmunson wrote in an email Friday afternoon.

In 2020, West Linn also fired Police Chief Terry Kruger, who had defended the arrest of Fesser to the City Council during closed-door executive sessions. A state board last year also stripped Timeus of his police certification for life. He had retired from West Linn police on Nov. 1, 2017, receiving $123,000 in a separation agreement.

Last summer, Mike Stradley, a former West Linn police lieutenant, agreed to resign as a police training manager for the state’s public safety academy after he was investigated for his role in Fesser’s arrest. When Stradley worked for West Linn, he enlisted his former colleagues on Portland’s gang enforcement team to help West Linn officers arrest Fesser and shared false information that Fesser had made threats to harm his boss and that he was a gang associate, according to a police report and depositions taken in Fesser’s civil cases.

-- Maxine Bernstein

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