Police protests continued to rock the city of Portland, Oregon for a 97th night. Protesters gathered Wednesday in Northeast Portland to march once again to a police building, leading to three arrests.
Even Mayor Ted Wheeler has become a main target of the violent mobs. He announced his plans to relocate Wednesday after hundreds of protesters kept showing up at his condo building and even attempted to set fire to it on Monday.
Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt has pursued a policy of limited prosecution for certain charges related to the ongoing protests. Last month, his office announced charges such as Interfering with a Police Officer or Criminal Trespass would not be prosecuted and people arrested for those crimes would be quickly released.
Sheriffs from surrounding counties declined to send in deputies to help Multnomah County and the Portland Police Bureau due to Schmidt’s hands-off approach after Gov. Kate Brown outlined a law enforcement plan last Sunday to quell the unrest.
For months the Portland Police Association has been urging the DA’s office to take stronger action against people facing serious charges in incidents stemming from downtown protests. The union said in July many people arrested on charges like burglary, arson, and assault don’t face consequences, fueling more destructive behavior.
“Burning dumpsters are not doing anything. Breaking windows is not doing anything. Throwing rocks and bottles of frozen water at police officers and fireworks is not doing anything,” PPA President Darryl Turner said. “I believe that everybody should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. They have to know there are consequences.”
“I think they think they’re entitled to commit crimes, but I think the reason they think they’re entitled to commit crimes is because there’s not going to be any consequences, or the consequences are very minimal,” Turner said.
He emphasized that most protesters are peaceful, and officers respect the right to protest, adding the agency is receptive to police reform. His concern is with the small number of protesters, whom officers have frequently called ‘agitators’, causing the damage.
The newly-elected DA told local station KATU at the beginning of August, his office will balance community needs when deciding whether to prosecute, which includes the rights of a victim in instances of arson or burglary.
“My focus when I become DA is to look at cases and make decisions in how we prosecute and try to get the best public safety outcomes,” Schmidt said.
“For me, I’m going to be evaluating these cases like I said, making sure that we can protect people’s rights to speech and keep people safe,” Schmidt added. “Yeah, absolutely those types of crimes that you talked about, we’re going to be giving those a hard look, and if the evidence is there, I think you’ll see the prosecutions.”
While Schmidt diddles, Oregon state troopers have been cross-deputized by US marshals. This means rioters arrested by OSP during police protests may be subject to federal charges, rather than state charges that are automatically not pursued by Schmidt. State police can bypass the DA’s office entirely when it comes to charges against arrested protesters.
“We continue to prioritize public safety resources in Multnomah County by focusing on the violent crimes occurring at protests and in our community, including the recent and alarming increase in gun violence this summer,” Schmidt said in a statement Wednesday.
An Oregon State Police spokesperson said Wednesday, “OSP is not criticizing any officials and we respect the authority of the [Multnomah County] District Attorney, but to meet the Governor’s charge of bringing violence to an end we will use all lawful methods at our disposal.”