It all started in 2017 when Michael Fesser complained to his boss about racial aggressions he had endured while working at A&B Towing in West Linn, Oregon.
About a month later, Fesser would be stopped by police and questioned about thousands of dollars of stolen money. He was handcuffed and booked in jail. But, as Fesser later claimed in two lawsuits, it had nothing to do with stolen money. His boss, he alleged, pressured West Linn, Oregon, police to harass him, fearing that Fesser would bring a racial discrimination lawsuit against him, the Washington Post reports.
Fesser’s boss, Eric Benson, was “fishing buddies” with West Linn police chief Terry Timeus, and text messages between the two and detective Tony Reeves revealed the alleged plot to discredit Fesser.
“He is playing the race card big time,” Benson texted Reeves in one case.. “He’ll sue the s— out of me.”
“I have a solid case,” Reeves texted back, before adding a few hours later, “It’s better we arrest him before me [sic] makes the complaint. Then it can’t be retaliation.”
Benson made unfounded accusations claiming that Fesser was skimming money from car auctions. Although West Linn police conducted surveillance on Fesser at his job and found no evidence of wrongdoing he told another West Linn officer and five other Portland officers to stop Fesser as he was heading home from work that day.
Recently, the city agreed to pay Fesser $600,000 in one of the largest settlements as a result of a wrongful arrest complaint in the history of the entire state. Benson also settled with Fesser for $415,000 back in March 2018, according to Oregon Live.
Fesser’s lawyer, Paul Buchanan slammed the actions of the boss and the police chief as “old-boy-style-racism.”
“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 that we Oregonians tend to want to associate with the Deep South rather than our own institutions,” Buchanan told Oregon Live.
And, according to the reports, Benson had reason to fear a racial discrimination lawsuit. A&B Towing has been sued for bias before. Fesser had complained about one co-worker displaying a Confederate flag and matching sticker on his pickup truck while taunting Fesser asking how he liked the flags. Fesser also made multiple complaints about coworkers using racial slurs to describe him.
Police dredged up Fesser’s past, with Benson testifying that he believed his employee had “gang ties.”
Fesser said that he had a cousin who was in the gang in the 90s and was surrounded by gang activity, but he insisted he never joined a gang himself.
In 1998, police caught up with Fesser, capturing him talking (just talking, mind you) about a drug deal on the phone. He was convicted of soliciting drugs and served 27 months in prison.
After Fesser was released from prison, he became minister, worked for a nonprofit to help men returning home from prison, got a job working for A&B Towing, married his wife and raised eight children with her.
And then his world came crashing down with Benson’s allegations.
Fesser was initially indicted on five felony theft charges in September 2017. Those charges were eventually dismissed, but Benson showed his hand early, with lawyers offering to drop the charges against Fesser if he withdrew his discrimination suit. Fesser refused.
Investigations into Fesser’s arrest have since been launched. Oregon’s governor, a member of Congress and two district attorneys have all called for investigations into the police in the case.
Reeves has been placed on administrative leave, as well as Former West Linn Lt. Mike Stradley, who helped get the Portland police gang enforcement team involved in Fesser’s arrest, according to Oregon Live.
”If what Oregonians are hearing about this case is true, everything about it is egregious, horrific and completely unacceptable. Law enforcement officers take a pledge to uphold the law and keep everyone safe – which is the opposite of active abuse of power, cronyism, hate crimes, and obstruction of justice,” Gov. Kate Brown said in a statement.
Fesser, in the meantime, is still worried about retaliation, according to the Post.
“I’m afraid of what they will do because I know what they’re capable of,” he said. “I’ve exposed some wrongdoing, and when you expose someone in power or high position, there can be repercussions.”