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Oregon changes release policy for bias crimes following racially motivated attack

Dylan Kesterson's release back onto the streets just hours after allegedly attacking a family of Japanese descent sparked citywide outrage last summer.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Defendants charged with first-degree bias crime in Oregon will no longer be allowed to walk out of jail the same day. Oregon Chief Justice Meagan Flynn signed an order Tuesday requiring suspects in the most serious racially motivated attacks be held in jail, at least until arraignment before a judge.

The change in statewide guidelines for pretrial detention follows a racially motivated attack last summer involving a family of Japanese descent. Police said Dylan Kesterson punched a father and his 5-year-old daughter while they were riding bicycles on the Eastbank Esplanade. Kesterson was able to walk free hours after the alleged assault. He was subsequently linked to at least three prior racist attacks in downtown Portland.

Kesterson’s release back onto the streets after the alleged attack sparked citywide outrage. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler demanded a review of the criminal justice system.

Asian American groups, prosecutors and crime victims pushed to change statewide policy that allowed Kesterson to be released from jail immediately after being booked on a first-degree bias crime.

"For the community it was shock," said attorney John Kodachi, former president of the Portland Japanese American Citizens League. "I think the public at large was stunned that someone can engage in this type of violent behavior, hateful behavior and simply walk out, free to do it again."

The guidelines for when to release defendants prior to their first court appearance is based on a statewide order that went into effect on July 1, 2022, one day prior to Kesterson's arrest.

In general, the guidelines require that people charged with more serious offenses — including violent felonies, sex crimes and domestic violence felonies or misdemeanors — not be released until they appear before a judge. Bias crimes weren't on that list.

Kesterson currently remains in custody, according to court records, although his case has been delayed because he's refused to participate in mental health evaluations and won't come to court for fitness to proceed hearings.  

Chief Justice Flynn's order modifying the pretrial release guidelines is effective immediately, although each county circuit court will have to update its own policies by July 1.

"The courts are recognizing that bias crimes are serious, and a serious threat to the community at large," Kodachi explained.

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