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Portland struggles with settlement offered to officer who honoured Nazi-era German soldiers

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PORTLAND, Ore. - Once-forgotten plaques placed by a Portland police officer in a city park to honour five Nazi-era German soldiers have come back to haunt the city.

The officer, Capt. Mark Kruger, threatened to sue the city last year over texts sent by a top police official to an officer characterizing him as a Nazi sympathizer. Instead of going to court, the city settled, agreeing to give Kruger 80 hours of vacation and $5,000.

For some in a city where tensions linger over a series of police shootings of minorities and the mentally ill, what came next was too much: His record was also wiped clean of the discipline he faced for putting up the plaques in 1999, and the chief apologized to him.

A small cluster of protesters last weekend admonished both Mayor Charlie Hales and the Portland Police Bureau, with organizers calling the settlement an "injustice, and a celebration of white supremacy."

Hales said he understood and agreed with the outrage, but that the settlement helped the city avoid costly litigation.

Kruger's attorney, Sean Riddell, said Kruger asked him not to comment beyond a statement the captain made in 2010 after he was disciplined.

At the time, he said in a public apology that he attached the plaque to a tree in Rocky Butte Park as part of his decades-old study of European history. He denied having sympathy for the followers of Adolf Hitler and called Nazi conduct "abhorrent" and "repulsive."

"I ask that community members focus on my life's work and not on a poor decision made years ago," he wrote.

The settlement was first reported by the Oregonian.

Allegations that Kruger, now the head of the department's Drugs and Vice Division, was a Nazi sympathizer date back more than a decade.

Over the years, police and city leadership brushed off criticism of Kruger as a misunderstanding, arguing he was merely a history buff. At some point after 1999, the plaques were taken down and later ended up in the city attorney's office in anticipation of potential litigation.

Then, in 2010, a former friend, Robert Seaver, gave interviews about Kruger's younger days, saying the two found solace as awkward teenagers in the Third Reich's ideology. Seaver succeeded in drawing the city's attention.

The renewed focus led the police review board to find Kruger brought "discredit and disgrace" to the city and the bureau. The Oregonian detailed the city's dealings with Kruger in a series of stories that culminated with the police chief suspending Kruger and forcing him to take a tolerance training session.

Three years later, a police lieutenant complained that Kruger created a hostile work environment when she was promoted to his department — something that she said was made more difficult because she had played a role in the 2010 investigation into his conduct.

The lieutenant communicated with a civilian who oversaw the department's internal affairs investigations, who reassured her in text messages made public in the suit that included references to Kruger as a Nazi. The discovery led Kruger to sue in January 2013 and the official to resign.

The Revs. LeRoy Haynes Jr. and T. Allen Bethel, part of the community group called the Albina Ministerial Alliance, said in a statement that the settlement was "an insult to every freedom- and justice-loving citizen" in the city.

"Their decision shows insensitivity to those who have been victims of the Third Reich and their crimes against humanity," they said.

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