Since President Joe Biden took office in January, the Department of Justice has been quietly dismissing federal cases against Portland, Oregon, rioters according to local media.
“Federal prosecutors have dismissed more than one-third of cases stemming from last summer’s violent protests in downtown Portland when protesters clashed with federal agents,” KGW reported Wednesday. The network “reviewed federal court records and found 31 of the 90 protest cases have been dismissed by the U.S. Department of Justice, including a mix of misdemeanor and felony charges.”
“Some of the most serious charges dropped include four defendants charged with assaulting a federal officer, which is a felony. More than half of the dropped charges were ‘dismissed with prejudice,’ which several former federal prosecutors described as extremely rare. ‘Dismissed with prejudice’ means the case can’t be brought back to court,” the outlet continued.
The charges all stem from confrontations between “anti-Fascist” protesters and special agents of the federal government brought in to protect and defend the city’s federal courthouse over the summer. The Department of Justice, in some cases, brought charges against protesters after Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt told media that he would not prosecute demonstrators for what he considered to be minor crimes.
“Multnomah DA Mike Schmidt pledged, near the beginning of the unrest, that his office would drop ‘lesser charges that the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) often arrests protesters for, such as rioting, disorderly conduct, and ‘interfering with a peace officer’—a catch-all term for not following orders or bothering a cop,” The Daily Wire noted in a report from last year.
Schmidt ultimately dropped charges leveled against nearly 70% of those arrested, according to the same report. “Of 974 cases referred to the Multnomah DA’s office for prosecution, 666 were rejected — 68% of all referred cases.”
At the time, then-Attorney General William Barr directed federal prosecutors to pick up the slack. To make up for the DA’s lack of prosecutions, the Department of Homeland Security deputized members of the Oregon State Police and the Portland Police Department. Individuals arrested by or for inferring with those officers were referred to the United States Attorney’s office for prosecution if the DA declined to follow up.
Under the new president, things appear to have changed.
“The dismissal of protest cases runs counter to the tough talk coming from the U.S. Department of Justice last summer. Billy Williams, then-U.S. Attorney for Oregon, vowed there would be consequences for the nightly graffiti, fires and vandalism outside the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse,” KGW reported.
Part of the issue may be that a number of protesters charged by the Trump-era DOJ were charged with “civil disorder,” a non-specific crime created to address out-of-control demonstrations in the 1960s. The Trump administration may have been willing to defend the “civil disorder” charge in court against claims such a charge violates the First Amendment, but the Biden administration may not be.
As of next month, Oregon will have a new federal prosecutor and further changes are expected.