Feds Stepping in to Prosecute Portland Rioters Charged with Crimes as Local DA Stands Down

Fire in Portland during riots about George Floyd's killing in Minneapolis.
Screenshot/Sergio Olmas/Underscore News

The Multnomah County District Attorney announced earlier this week that dozens of people arrested over almost three months of rioting in Portland, Oregon, will not be prosecuted, but as local officials stand down, federal prosecutors are taking on cases.

D.A. Mike Schmidt said his office would not prosecute rioters arrested unless the charges against them included property damage, theft or the use or threat of force against another person.

Willamette Week reported on the federal move to prosecute rioters, including Edward Thomas Schinzing, who was caught on camera setting fires inside of the Multnomah County Justice Center on May 29, 2020, the first night of protests in Portland:

It was a slam-dunk case for the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office: the destruction of county property caught on camera. And county prosecutors are pursuing indictments for 47 people on felony charges related to protests this year.

Schinzing was indicted July 28 on arson charges. But the county isn’t bringing the charges.

Instead, he’s being prosecuted by the U.S. attorney for Oregon—that is, the feds. He’s one of at least two protesters whose cases originated in the district attorney’s office that have now been taken up in federal court, according to Multnomah County Senior Deputy District Attorney Nathan Vasquez.

The Willamette Week report notes that the fires were set in buildings owned by the city and country, not a federal building that federal law enforcement are tasked to protect.

The report also said “the feds'” rationale for claiming jurisdiction was, “Because Portland and Multnomah County are recipients of federal aid, including COVID relief funding, the federal government has authority to prosecute crimes on those properties.”

At a press conference on August 11, Schmidt did not dispute federal law enforcement’s jurisdiction in the Schinzing case, according to the Willamette Weekly report.

“Schinzing maliciously damaged and destroyed…by means of fire a building and other personal property belonging to Multnomah County and the City of Portland, which are both institutions and organizations receiving federal financial assistance,” Special Agent Cynthia M. Chang of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives wrote in an affidavit.

Former Multnomah County Chief Deputy District Attorney Norm Frink said that the feds’ involvement may seem unusual, but what is taking place in Portland is anything but usual.

“Yeah, it’s unusual. But the circumstances are even more unusual,” Frink told the news outlet. “It’s unusual that for 70-plus days, people have been permitted, with minimal law enforcement interference, to break the criminal laws over political animus.”

“That’s highly unusual,” Frink said. “It’s unsurprising to me that the only adult left in the room would exercise federal jurisdiction when he can.”

“It’s unlikely Portlanders will feel much pity for Schinzing, Willamette Week reported. “He remains in custody at the Multnomah County Jail, where he’s been held since July 2 following an arrest for violating parole after being convicted of assault this spring for attacking his domestic partner and her child.”

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