PORTLAND, Ore. — Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt announced a new policy Tuesday that dictates how his office will prosecute those arrested during the ongoing protests in Portland.
Schmidt said the district attorney's office won't prosecute protesters arrested for city ordinance violations that don't include property damage, theft or the use or threat of force against another person.
Arrest charges for crimes that allege "intentional physical violence against community members and/or law enforcement" will be handled by general office policies, Schmidt said. This includes charges for assault and arson.
"If you are out there committing violence or damaging property, you will be prosecuted," Schmidt said.
But the district attorney's office won't prosecute charges where the most serious charge is a city ordinance violation, which includes:
- Interfering with a peace officer or parole and probation officer
- Disorderly conduct in the second degree
- Criminal trespass in the first and second degree
- Escape in the third degree
- Riot (unless accompanied by a charge outside of this list)
Schmidt clarified that if a riot charge is accompanied by a charge for crimes involving physical violence or property damage, the office will prosecute that riot charge.
The new policy applies to protests starting May 29 and is specific to these protests, Schmidt said.
More than 550 people have been arrested since the protests began, and by some estimates, as many as 400 of those charges may be dismissed, officials said.
The new district attorney said when charges for "resisting arrest" or "assaulting a public safety officer" are referred to his office, they will be "under high scrutiny." He said consideration will be given to protesters arrested in "the chaos of a protesting environment, especially after tear gas or other less-lethal munitions have been deployed against community members en masse."
Protesters charged with a misdemeanor or felony for crimes that cause only financial harm during a protest will be offered conditional dismissal after restitution is paid to the victim or other amends to the community are made, Schmidt said. Crimes that full under that category include:
- Criminal mischief in the second and third degree (when the value is under $1,000)
- Theft in the first, second and third degree (when the value is under $1,000 or when the theft is committed during a riot)
- Burglary in the second degree if combined with any criminal mischief or theft allegation.
Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell, who was told of the policy change on Friday, said it doesn't change Oregon law and still holds accountable people who commit violent acts or intentionally damage property.
“Committing a crime is different from demonstrating,” Lovell said in a statement. “The arrests we make often come after hours of damage to private property, disruption of public transit and traffic on public streets, thefts from small businesses, arson, burglary, attacks on members of the community, and attacks against police officers.”
Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is also the police commissioner, did not return a request for comment to the Associated Press.
Schmidt said his office supports those who protest peacefully.
"As prosecutors, we acknowledge the depth of emotion that motivates these demonstrations and support those who are civically engaged through peaceful protesting," Schmidt said. "We will undermine public safety, not promote it, if we do not take action to bring about immediate change.
"If we leverage the full force of the criminal justice system on individuals who are peacefully protesting and demanding to be heard, we will cause irreparable harm to them individually and to our society. The prosecution of people exercising their rights to free speech and assembly in a non-violent manner takes away from the limited resources that we have to prosecute serious crimes and to assist crime victims," Schmidt said.
Schmidt was elected in May and took over as district attorney after outgoing district attorney Rod Underhill stepped down July 31. Schmidt has started his tenure as district attorney in the midst of the Portland protests, which have been going on for more than 70 consecutive nights since the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.
Last weekend, police quickly declared the gatherings riots and used tear gas to break up crowds. Video from last weekend showed people lighting fires in dumpsters, dragging chain-link fences into the street, and lighting a fire inside the Portland Police Association headquarters.
Officers have been injured by thrown mortars, rocks and other items, according to police, who have made 95 arrests during the demonstrations over the past week.
On Monday night, police declared a gathering outside the Portland police's North Precinct an unlawful assembly and made nine arrests.