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Oregon City Settles Following Claims of Retaliation Via Criminal Charges

Michael Fesser, a black male, has alleged that he reported racially motivated incidents at work to his boss, Eric Benson, at A&B Towing. He reported that one co-worker who had a Confederate flag and matching sticker in his truck, asked Fesser if he liked the flags. Fesser also recounted some racial slurs directed at him. Benson was a white man. After making these complaints, Fesser believes that Benson persuaded a local police chief to accuse Fesser of criminal activity to prevent him from successfully pursuing a racial discrimination claim.
Benson and the West Linn police chief were alleged “fishing buddies.” A&B Towing is located in Portland, just north of West Linn. Thereafter, it is alleged that the police chief and members of the police department contrived a case of theft against Fesser. A text message from a West Linn police officer allegedly asserted that Fesser had to be arrested quickly before he could file a race discrimination complaint, “then it can’t be retaliation.” Other text messages reflect the boss and police chief discussing how an arrest would weaken the discrimination lawsuit and undermine Fesser’s credibility in court. The police dug deep into Fesser’s past, bringing out a twenty-year-old conviction for soliciting drugs. He worked for the Towing company for 13 years without incident. Although A&B Towing was located in Portland, outside of West Linn, the police reportedly surveilled him beyond its jurisdiction. Nothing was found, yet the West Linn police department purportedly told the Portland police they had “probable cause” and Fesser was arrested on his way home from work. In the course of the arrest, the police officers were accused of seizing his smartphone, personal papers, and attorney-client privileged communications about a racial discrimination lawsuit. Fesser was held in jail for eight hours and was not given his smartphone back upon release.
The West Linn police department has denied the charges. However, the city settled the case for $600,000, stating that it was in the best interests of the city to focus on other matters. A day after the settlement, a new police chief was appointed, and the DA’s office launched an investigation into the police department’s actions concerning Fesser.