Portland’s new top prosecutor will drop most charges filed against protesters in recent months, saying he’s “recognizing that the right to speak and have your voice heard is extremely important” and shouldn’t turn into unnecessary punishment for non-violent offenses, The Oregonian reports. The action by Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt, who took office Aug. 1, likely means hundreds of cases of interfering with police, disorderly conduct, criminal trespass, escape or harassment will be dropped if the allegations don’t involve “deliberate’’ property damage, theft or force against another person or threats of force.
About 550 cases have been referred to the district attorney’s office for prosecution since May 29 after people began to rally against police violence and systemic racism in the wake of the May 25 killing of George Floyd. Of those cases, about 140 have been for felony crimes, including assault, arson, riot and theft. Of the felonies, prosecutors are pursuing charges in about 45 of the cases, with the rest either dropped or under review as prosecutors seek more information from police, said Nathan Vasquez, a senior deputy district attorney. The office won’t prosecute people on a riot accusation alone. Prosecutors will proceed with a riot case only if it includes an accompanying allegation of specific property damage or use of force, Schmidt said. Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said Schmidt’s policy changes don’t alter state law and that the Police Bureau “remains committed to public safety.” Dozens of people face federal charges, which will be unaffected by Schmidt’s decision. As Portland’s protests approach 80 consecutive nights, much of the action has begun to shift from downtown to usually quiet residential streets, angering residents.