Almost 100 people facing federal charges who were arrested during last summer’s protests in Portland, Oregon will not be prosecuted or spend any time at all behind bars.
Although 97 people were arrested and had charges filed against them in connection to protests that took place between May and October of last year, 58 cases have either been dismissed completely or are on track.
A further 32 cases are also pending with many also likely to be dismissed. Just seven people have pled guilty with just one of those heading to prison having been caught red-handed setting fire to the city’s Justice Center.
Charges have been dismissed against 58 of the 97 people arrested during the unrest last year that lasted for more than 100 days between May and October
Black Lives Matter protesters gather at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse in Portland, Oregon last year
Edward Schinzing, 33, had his name tattooed on his back while video captured him setting fire to the Justice Center building. The facility houses the Multnomah County jail and the Portland Police Bureau headquarters
Authorities were able to identify him through a comparison of his booking photo (left) and photos from the scene (right) in which a distinctive tattoo of his last name across his upper back was visible
The man had his shirt off and helpfully, for police, Edward Schinzing had his name tattooed on his back while video captured him setting fire to the building.
The decision not to prosecute federally echoes the decision made last year by Portland’s newly elected district attorney who stipulated under a new policy, his office would not prosecute people who have been arrested since late May on non-violent misdemeanor charges.
The policy recognizes the outrage and frustration over a history of racial injustice that led to more than 100 nights of sustained, often violent protest in Portland as well as the more practical realities of the court system, which is running more than several months behind in processing cases because of COVID-19.
‘The protesters are angry … and deeply frustrated with what they perceive to be structural inequities in our basic social fabric. And this frustration can escalate to levels that violate the law,’ ,Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt said.
Edward Thomas Schinzing, 33, was among a group of protesters who broke into the Justice Center on May 29, 2020 (pictured) before vandalizing the space and setting fires
People gather to protest in front of the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse in downtown Portland in July 2020
There were more than 100 nights of rioting last summer which saw protesters tear gassed and fired upon with rubber bullets by the city’s police force
‘This policy acknowledges that centuries of disparate treatment of our black and brown communities have left deep wounds and that the healing process will not be easy or quick.’
Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said people who commit violent acts or intentionally damage property will still be held accountable.
‘Committing a crime is different from demonstrating,’ Lovell said in a statement. ‘The arrests we make often come after hours of damage to private property, disruption of public transit and traffic on public streets, thefts from small businesses, arson, burglary, attacks on members of the community, and attacks against police officers.’
A protestor flips off federal police atop the perimeter barricade of the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse, pictured last July
Portland was the epicenter of protests in 2020 with at least 200 nights of demonstrations, 30 nights of rioting and around 1,000 arrests. (File photo from July)
Protestors face off with federal police amidst tear gas outside the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse (File photo from July)
Chad Wolf, the acting Secretary of Homeland Security under President Trump was not happy at hearing almost all those who had charges are to have them dismissed.
‘It’s offensive to all the men and women who risked their lives in Portland for 90 to 120 days or even longer in some cases, being attacked night after night after night,’ he told Fox News.
‘The prosecutors in that the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the number of prosecutors, that support, even the courthouse system, isn’t really set up to handle those sorts of numbers,’ said Former federal prosecutor Alex Little.
Lisa Hay, the federal public defender in Oregon, has a slightly different take on the high number of cases being dismissed.
‘I think the federal government went overboard in some of the ways they addressed these protests,’ said Lisa Hay, a federal public defender in Oregon. ‘What we’re seeing now is many of the cases that were brought because of the federal government’s overreach are now being dismissed.’
Portland endured more than 100 nights of rioting during last summer’s protest over racial inequality and police brutality
Last summer’s protests dominated the news in Portland for months following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer held a knee to his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Protesters were angry after the Portland police used tear gas repeatedly in the early days of the protests.
Demonstrations have at times attracted up to 10,000 people for peaceful marches and rallies around the city. But some protesters have turned to violence that’s been increasingly directed at the courthouse and other federal property with 27 riots declared in the space of four months.
Some protesters threw bricks, rocks and other projectiles at officers, with police responding by firing tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds.
At the time, the Trump administration sent federal agents to quell the unrest but the deployment had the opposite effect, reinvigorating protesters who found a new rallying point in opposing the federal presence.
A demonstrator waves a U.S. flag in front of federal agents after tear gas is deployed during a riot in Portland in July
Many of the federal tactical teams wore combat-like gear, but their deployment inflamed the situation, especially following footage of protesters being snatched off the street by federal agents and put into unmarked cars.
Mayor Ted Wheeler recently decried what he described as a segment of violent agitators who detract from the message of police accountability and should be subject to more severe punishment.
Inflamed by the arrival of federal officers and right-wing militias, including the so-called Proud Boys, the protests turned deadly.