Posted by Jonathan Maus ( Publisher/Editor ) on August 30th, 2010 at 2:33 pm
“If we could have put a solid felony case together against Mr. Hanna, and we tried, we would have gone forward with much stiffer charges… I would have liked to seen felony charges, but at the end of the day, this was the best we could do.”
— Sgt. Todd Davis, Portland Police Bureau
Many people in the community are outraged at the light sentence given to prominent local business man and owner of Mt. Hood Ski Bowl Kirk Hanna for the drunken, 80 mph, hit-and-run he pleaded guilty to last week.
Like any high-profile case like this, there are a lot of moving parts at work; the District Attorney’s office, the judge, the defense attorneys, the victim, the police, the defendant, and so on. I’ll be looking into the story a bit more in the coming days, but one thing I wanted to share now is the role that the Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division played (the Traffic Division handles all our city’s hit-and-run cases).
Sargeant Todd Davis has recently taken over some of the duties of ex Traffic Division Lieutenant Bryan Parman. One of those is hit-and-run cases. In my dealings with Davis about this case, he’s been clearly frustrated with how it turned out. After reading several comments here on BikePortland that were critical of the handling of this case, Sgt. Davis shared the following statement. It’s a window into the high stakes poker game played out between an understaffed police force and a team of high-paid attorneys (emphasis mine):
“If we could have put a solid felony case together against Mr. Hanna, and we tried, we would have gone forward with much stiffer charges.
Before myself and the Traffic Investigations Unit even knew about this case, one of Mr. Hanna’s three attorneys came to our office and gave us the keys to the Porsche. They told us where it was parked and also told us we could not search it or tow it without a warrant and that we could not talk to their client.
I sent an investigator out to look at it. He took pictures of it and informed me that it looked like it had struck a bicyclist and by the extent of damage, probably caused serious injury. We still did not have a case to match this to. I called all over the metro area trying to find an agency with a serious or possible fatal hit and run to a bicyclist. With no luck, I started sifting through closed radio calls in our own city. I finally found the case in question, the hit and run to Mr. Skof on Macadam Ave. The call had been taken by Central Precinct officers and the reports were still being processed.
We then wrote a search warrant and towed Mr. Hanna’s vehicle. We contacted witnesses and family members. We located surveillance cameras and looked at footage, all trying to place Mr. Hanna in the driver’s seat of the Porsche. After everything was exhausted, we couldn’t put the case together without an actual confession by Mr. Hanna.
This is where all the legal wrangling with his attorneys and our lone District Attorney started. We basically held our cards close and sent our DA to the table holding only a pair of deuces. The end result was the plea deal you saw last Thursday.
Like I said, I would have liked to seen felony charges, but at the end of the day, this was the best we could do. Sometimes a pair of deuces wins the pot. At the same time, the victim’s ability to recover civil damages was protected. We take our cases very seriously here, especially when they involve vulnerable road users. A lot of investigative work went into this, but at the end of the day, this was the best we could do. Had this case gone to trial, there’s a good chance we wouldn’t have done as well.
I hope that clarifies how we ended up with these charges and the plea agreement.”
This statement from Sgt. Davis shows how difficult it can be to build a case that will hold up in court and ultimately hold a defendant accountable for their actions — especially when very capable defense attorneys are involved.
I’ll be looking into other aspects of this case in the coming days. If you have questions or concerns, please share them in the comments below.