MULTNOMAH COUNTY, OR (KPTV) - Since taking office in August, new Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt has been at the center of controversy around his decision not to charge certain people arrested at protests.
In an interview with FOX 12, Schmidt defended his policy, saying his priority is prosecuting people who are actually committing crimes.
According to data made public by Schmidt's office, just over 1,000 protest-related criminal cases have been referred to his office by local law enforcement. Only 138 cases have gone forward so far, and nearly 700 cases were rejected.
"Mainly, the fact pattern we see is people are asked to go home, either they don't, or they don't go home fast enough," Schmidt said. "Those are the majority of the cases where we're saying we're going to focus our resources on the folks that are actually doing harm."
574 cases have been rejected "in the interest of justice."
In those cases, the DA's office chose not to proceed with criminal charges based on compelling factors or circumstances. In 51 cases that were rejected, people were arrested for rioting and one or more misdemeanor crime.
"The crime of riot in Oregon is defined as when five or more people are engaged in tumultuous behavior," Schmidt said. "So, at any one of these protest events where there are five or so bad actors who are throwing things at police or lighting things on fire, anybody in the crowd could be subject to an arrest for felony riot, whether they were the ones doing the damage or not. We have said if you are the person who is throwing things, lighting things on fire, we'll absolutely prosecute you for the crime of riot. However, if you are just a person who is there, you're not a person who we have any evidence is actually engaging in that behavior, we're not going to charge you with a felony for standing there."
The District Attorney's charging policies for people arrested at protests have been criticized by the Portland Police Association and questioned by Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese.
Schmidt said he will continue working to build better relationships with both the police and sheriff's department.
Data on cases related to protests is publicly available here.
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