Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt released new guidelines on Tuesday saying that his office would not prosecute protesters arrested for offenses that do not involve deliberate property damage, theft or the use of force against another person.
The new policy states that the DA’s office will not pursue criminal charges against individuals who are accused of a variety of non-violent offenses if those actions took place as part of the protests. Included in the list of city ordinances that will not be prosecuted are trespass, disorderly conduct, and interference with and attempted flight from police officers. In addition, when an individual is charged with a crime that “causes only financial harm,” such as minor theft and burglary, the office will seek to resolve the charge with a restitution payment to the victim instead of pursuing criminal charges.
In a press release announcing the new policy, Schmidt said that pursuing criminal charges against the majority of peaceful protesters was inappropriate and that if the DA’s office “leverage[d] 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.” In a press conference statement reported on by Oregon Live, he cautioned that while “recognizing that the right to speak and have your voice heard is extremely important,” the new policy is “not a free pass” and that the office would continue to prosecute anyone who engages in “deliberate acts of violence against police or anyone else.” He also reiterated that the DA office’s decision not to pursue charges does not prevent Portland police officers from continuing to arrest individuals for committing the offenses or responding to the protests as they see fit.
Portland has been an epicenter for Black Lives Matter protests over the past two months, with nearly nightly demonstrations since the May 25 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. Federal law enforcement officers were dispatched to the city by President Trump in an effort to crackdown on the protests, actions that were harshly criticized by Oregon officials and the UN. The Trump administration recently agreed to remove the federal troops.