Feds Step in to Prosecute Criminal Rioters in Portland as Local DA Stands Down

PORTLAND, OR - AUGUST 22: Protesters and Portland police clash while dispersing a crowd ga
File Photo: Nathan Howard/Getty Images

The Department of Justice announced on Thursday that it will prosecute 74 people for crimes committed during violent protests that have occurred nightly in Portland, Oregon, since May 29.

The press release for the announcement said:

On many nights, after peaceful demonstrations end, various public and private buildings have been the target of vandalism and destructionLocal, state, and federal law enforcement working to protect these buildings and ensure the safety of peaceful demonstrators have been subjected to threats and assaults from violent agitators while performing their duties.

U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams said:

Violent agitators have hijacked any semblance of First Amendment protected activity, engaging in violent criminal acts and destruction of public safety. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and our federal law enforcement partners are expeditiously working with local and state law enforcement to identify, arrest, and prosecute these individuals that are disrupting the rule of law in our communities and physically attacking our law enforcement officers and destroying property.

“Violent agitators not only delay real reform, but make our community less safe by keeping law enforcement from responding to other critical calls for service,” Williams said.

ATF Special Agent in Charge Jonathan McPherson, said:

 As the nation’s primary source for fire investigative knowledge, [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] ATF remains committed to investigating those responsible for committing arsons in our communities and holding them responsible for their illegal actions. As a reminder, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for arson. ATF takes these violent actions seriously and will work diligently to bring justice to the victims.

Acting Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations Seattle Eben Roberts said:

It is vitally important that all Americans have the ability to exercise their first amendment rights to freedom of speech.  Unfortunately, much of what we’re seeing in Portland is the antithesis of that. Instead tragic events are being used as excuses for individuals with ill intent disguising themselves as activists to commit violent crimes against their communities and law enforcement officers. Progress can only be made if community leaders, law enforcement and the public come together in the name of social change, justice and peace.

Renn Cannon, special agent in charge of the FBI in Orego, said:

While the FBI supports and safeguards Constitutionally-protected activity and civil rights, there is no permit for assault, arson or property damage and these are not victimless crimes. Among the victims of violent crime are business owners, residents and individuals exercising their First Amendment rights through protests or other legitimate forms of expression.

Meanwhile, the New York Times lauded the new Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt, who has refused to prosecute rioters in Portland.

He has not been slow to shake things up: Ten days after taking office, Mr. Schmidt effectively dismissed charges against more than half of about 600 people arrested since the protests began at the end of May.

Mr. Schmidt said his office would presumptively decline to prosecute demonstrators for minor offenses such as interfering with the police, disorderly conduct and trespassing — cases that did not involve deliberate violence, property damage or theft. And charges for assault on officers and resisting arrest will now require closer scrutiny, with prosecutors taking into account in filing charges whether the police fired tear gas into crowds.

The purpose, Mr. Schmidt said, is to balance “people’s righteous anger and grief and fury over a system that has not really been responsive enough for decades and centuries” with the need to prevent property damage and violence.

“At a time when legitimacy in our criminal justice system is probably at an all-time low, we can’t be seen to be using that very system to silence the speech that is being critical of it,” Schmidt said. “How do you design a policy with all of those competing goals? That’s really the line we tried to walk.”

Not so with federal law enforcement the DOJ press release said:

Since May 26, 2020, federal law enforcement authorities have arrested 100 people for crimes committed during local demonstrations. Seventy-four face federal charges, including felonies, misdemeanors, and citation violations. Crimes include assaults on federal officers, some resulting in serious injuries; arson and attempted arson; damaging federal government property; failing to obey lawful orders; and unlawful use of a drone; among others.

DOJ noted that punishment for these crimes can result in significant prison sentences.

“Several of the charges being used to prosecute violent agitators carry significant maximum prison sentences,” the press release said. “For example, felony assault of a federal officer with a dangerous weapon is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Arson is punishable by up to 20 years in prison with a mandatory minimum sentence of five years.”

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