Around midnight on March 29, a small house party in Northeast Portland disintegrated into a free-for-all between cops and residents. With Prince blaring in the background, about 40 police officers--roughly the same number as revelers--handcuffed, pepper-sprayed, and arrested partygoers. In the days following the tangle, accusations and criminal charges emerged that two of the hosts had assaulted and kidnapped the first officer on the scene.
It was an alarming reaction by the police and the Multnomah County District Attorney. Because kidnapping is a so-called Measure 11 crime and carries a mandatory minimum jail sentence, Bjorn Einertsen and Chad Hapshe, the two accused hosts, faced more than seven years in prison.
Over the summer, this story has been edging towards its natural conclusion--a courtroom showdown. A victory for the DA would have stood as a cautionary tale about Portland's lopsided justice system, while exoneration would have justified what many have said all along--that the cops overreacted and the DA abused his power.
But on August 30, with less than 48 hours before the courtroom showdown, the DA balked on kidnapping charges and offered a bargain--in exchange for guilty pleas for assault (still a felony), Einertsen and Hapshe would receive minimal jail time, a three-year probation, and several weeks of forest service.
But instead of capping this story with a neatly packaged resolution, the last-minute decision leaves a puzzling question: Why did the DA take a routine assault charge and for six months aggressively prosecute it as a trumped-up kidnapping?
Several observers familiar with both the case and Einertsen and Hapshe, remarked the decision to prosecute the two men to such extremes had a broader target in mind; that is, putting a scare on the punks and activists in Northeast Portland.
Although the DA did not publicly back away from their charges until the last minute, Norm Frank with the DA's office admitted that as more testimony poured in and time passed, their suspicion that Einertsen and Hapshe had kidnapped a police officer waned.
"As the case progressed, it became more problematic whether the kidnapping could be sustained at trial," Frank admitted.