Michael Fesser of Portland, Oregon, has received more than $1 million in settlement money after his employer conspired with local police to have him falsely arrested in order to prevent him from filing a discrimination lawsuit, according to Oregon Live.
In 2017, Fesser told his boss, Eric Benson, about racial discrimination he faced while working for A&B Towing, the company Benson owned. Fesser had worked at A&B for 16 years.
Fesser told Benson that co-workers called him racial slurs and that one of them asked if he was bothered by the Confederate flag sticker on the employee's truck.
Benson, fearing that Fesser was going to sue the company for racial discrimination, called former West Linn Police Chief Terry Timeus, a friend of Benson's. Benson asked Timeus to help fabricate a case to arrest Fesser based on the false accusation that Fesser was stealing money from the proceeds of car auctions he oversaw.
Timeus, still having influence within the West Linn Police Department, enlisted the help of West Linn officers, including Detective Tony Reeves, to surveil Fesser at work. They monitored security camera footage and had another employee secretly record Fesser.
After not finding any evidence of wrongdoing, Reeves simply decided to have Fesser arrested anyway in an attempt to do so before a potential lawsuit against A&B, so the arrest couldn't be seen as retaliation.
"My game, my rules," Reeves wrote in a text to Benson about the plan.
Without any probable cause, West Linn police arrested Fesser on the way home from work. Without a warrant, they searched his vehicle and took some cash and his phone, and a letter about the racial discrimination issue. He was arrested on the charge of aggravated theft. When Fesser went to the police station to recover his belongings, he was informed by Reeves that he had been fired by A&B — which was strange to Fesser.
"How do police fire me from my job?" Fesser told Oregon Live he thought at the time.
The charges were later dropped — until Fesser went through with the discrimination lawsuit in November 2017. Reeves and Benson falsely testified against Fesser and had the theft charges revived. In summer 2018, Fesser sued the West Linn Police Department.
The case turned when Fesser's lawyers obtained text messages between Benson and Reeves, showing them discussing the plot to frame Fesser while using racist and homophobic language. At one point, Benson told Reeves he wished he could have Fesser arrested in Clackamas County so that he would be detained with "some real racist boys."
"Dreams can never come true, I guess," Benson wrote.
All charges against Fesser were dropped. A&B Towing agreed to pay Fesser $415,000 in a settlement. The West Linn Police Department recently settled with Fesser for $600,000. Reeves, who actually got promoted while this scheme was unfolding, has been placed on paid administrative leave, along with another officer who participated.
"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," Fesser's lawyer Paul Buchanan told Oregon Live.
Fesser said he was motivated to continue his legal battle against the police department not only for his sake, but for the sake of other black men who could potentially fall victim to such egregious abuses of power. Fesser is a father of eight who now runs a prison ministry and transitional program to support men getting out of prison.