Between May 28 and October 5, Portland police referred 974 cases to the Multnomah County District Attorney’s (MCDA) office related to alleged criminal activity at protests. The DA’s office has so far rejected 666 of those cases, on the grounds that they are either not severe enough to warrant prosecution, or there is insufficient evidence to prosecute them.
That means that the office, headed up by District Attorney Mike Schmidt, has declined to prosecute 68 percent of protest-related cases brought to them by the police. That’s one of the key takeaways from a new online public data dashboard Schmidt’s office announced Wednesday, which breaks down protest cases by charge, demographics, and whether or not Schmidt chose to prosecute them.
The amount of cases rejected by Schmidt isn’t surprising: In August, Schmidt said he would only pursue serious protest-related charges like assault, theft, property damage, and other crimes that posed a grave risk to people’s physical safety. Schmidt pledged to eschew prosecuting more nebulous charges, such as rioting, disorderly conduct, harassment, or “interfering with a police officer”—a catch-all term for not following a cop’s orders.
"The prosecution of people exercising their rights to free speech and assembly in a non-violent manner takes away from the limited resources that we have to prosecute serious crimes and to assist crime victims,” he said when announcing the policy in August.
Schmidt has faced criticism for declining to prosecute the bulk of protest-related charges, both from the Portland Police Association (the union for rank-and-file Portland cops), and US Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams. But he was elected to office earlier this year after running on a criminal justice reform platform, which included lessening mass incarceration and making the MCDA’s office more transparent.
“This is a major step forward for the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office,” Schmidt said in a press release issued Wednesday. “Transparency in the work we do is a keystone to my administration. Moving this data online for the community to easily use will have a significant impact on understanding cases that arise from mass demonstrations.”
Of the 666 cases Schmidt declined, 543 of them were rejected “in the interest of justice,” meaning they included charges that Schmidt previously said he wouldn’t prosecute. Sixty-seven were rejected because follow-up information was needed, 44 were rejected because of insufficient evidence, and 12 because there was a legal impediment to prosecution.
The MCDA’s office has so far moved forward on 128 protest-related cases, while 182 cases are still pending review. Of the cases the MCDA has accepted so far, the defendants have a slightly higher chance of being Black or Hispanic when compared to all protest-related cases referred by police:
The data also shows that the vast majority of people arrested by Portland police during protests are between 18 and 35 years old. Nearly twice as many men as women face protest-related charges, though the data doesn’t account for other genders.
When police refer cases to the MCDA, those cases can involve multiple charges against one person. Of the 1,260 total charges referred to the MCDA by Portland police between May 28 and October 5, 902 of them were “public order” crimes, such as disorderly conduct or interfering with a police officer. Property crimes account for 125 of the charges, while there are 166 “personal crimes,” such as assault.
While the ongoing protests have been portrayed by some as violent mobs trying to burn the city down, just 10 of the charges are for arson.
The data dashboard only includes charges referred to the MCDA by local police forces, meaning it does not count federal charges prosecuted by US Attorney Williams' office.