Prosecutors in Portland will not pursue charges against people who were arrested and accused of nonviolent crimes amid large-scale protests that have persisted in the city since the Memorial Day police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt outlined his office's position on Tuesday with a policy laying out why he felt it was unnecessary to prosecute those charged with nonviolent misdemeanor offenses.
Schmidt said that a prosecution of cases related "solely to protest activities" have a "weak nexus to further criminality" and draw away from the office's mission.
Under the new policy, prosecutors will decline to move forward with cases against individuals where the most serious offenses do not involve "deliberate property damage, theft, or the use or threat of force against another person." Those crimes include interfering with a police officer, disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing, among others.
Portland has been the site of daily protests since May 25, when Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for roughly nine minutes. Tensions escalated in the city in July after the Trump administration deployed federal troops as part of an effort to protect federal property, leading to regular clashes between protesters and officers.
Federal officers have repeatedly used tear gas on protesters outside a federal courthouse in the city and Portland Police have declared riots on multiple occasions. Federal troops began exiting the city earlier this month following an agreement reached between Trump administration officials and Oregon Gov. Kate BrownKate BrownOregon legislature on the brink as Democrats push gerrymandered maps Oregon governor sued by police, firefighters over vaccine mandate Unvaccinated employee sparked COVID-19 outbreak at Oregon assisted living facility: officials MORE (D). However, tensions in the city have persisted. Police declared a riot on Saturday after a group of people set a police union office on fire.
About 550 cases have been referred to the Multnomah County district attorney's office for misdemeanor or felony prosecution, NPR reported.
Schmidt's policy leaves decisions up to prosecutors regarding more serious crimes, including resisting arrest. But he stressed that his office would "undermine public safety, not promote it, if we leverage the force of our criminal justice system against peaceful protesters who are demanding to be heard." He said that cases should be subjected to a "high level of scrutiny."
Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said in a statement that the new policy does not "change the law, nor does it say his office will tolerate damage to property or deliberate violence against police or anyone else."
"Committing a crime is different from demonstrating," Lovell added. "Some people use the gatherings as an opportunity to commit crimes. 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."