Black Portland man awarded settlement in racial discrimination lawsuit

After his white boss and the white police chief unlawfully spied on him, Michael Fesser is awarded one of the largest settlements in Oregon's history

Mesquite resident is set free

A Black man from Portland recently won a racial discrimination settlement against the city of West Linn after he was unlawfully surveilled at work by police and arrested as a favor to his former boss.

Michael Fesser, 48, was recently awarded $600,000 by the City of West Linn— one of the largest racial discrimination lawsuits ever paid out by the state of Oregon.

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In 2018, Fesser also settled a lawsuit against his former employer, A&B Towing of Southeast Portland, for $415,000. Fesser had filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Portland against the city and West Linn Police Department for false arrest, malicious prosecution, defamation, and invasion of privacy, saying a 2017 incident caused him emotional distress and economic hardship, according to The Oregonian.

Three years ago, Fesser was working for A&B Towing when he raised concerns about racial harassment to his boss, Eric Benson, who owned the company at the time. Fesser reported that his co-workers called him racist slurs and asked his opinion on a Confederate flag draped from a pickup truck in the company lot.

Instead of investigating those claims, Benson instead contacted former West Linn Police Chief Terry Timeus, his fishing buddy, to see what could be done. West Linn is a suburb of Portland.

Then, Benson made an unsubstantiated claim to Timeus that Fesser was stealing money from car auctions. Fesser managed the company’s car auctions at the time, and received and handled payments from bidders. Benson told Timeus that his company was short money from the auctions but Portland police had not responded to his request for an investigation, The Oregonian reports.

Timeus instructed officers to secretly videotape Fesser at work, which they pulled off without a court order or warrant, with the help of one of Benson’s associates who used an audio app called “Swann View.” Benson watched the surveillance feed and relayed information back to West Linn Detective Tony Reeves, according to The Oregonian.

Ultimately, Reeves had Fesser arrested without cause, although Reeves later admitted the video recording showed no crime was committed.

“My game my rules,” Reeves wrote to Benson, according to The Oregonian.

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Paul Buchanan, Fesser’s lawyer, said the case proves that good ole’ boy racism is still around.

“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 The Oregonian.