Could it be for lack of evidence — or does it have to do with the change of leadership at the Department of Justice? The outgoing US Attorney told KGW that each case has been reviewed separately, but Billy Williams had promised “consequences” for rioters arrested in Portland’s months-long unrest. So how does dismissals with prejudice match up with that rhetoric (via PJ Media)?
Federal prosecutors have dismissed more than one-third of cases stemming from last summer’s violent protests in downtown Portland, when protesters clashed with federal agents. KGW reviewed federal court records and found 31 of the 90 protest cases have been dismissed by the U.S. Department of Justice, including a mix of misdemeanor and felony charges.
Some of the most serious charges dropped include four defendants charged with assaulting a federal officer, which is a felony. More than half of the dropped charges were “dismissed with prejudice,” which several former federal prosecutors described as extremely rare. “Dismissed with prejudice” means the case can’t be brought back to court.
The dismissal of protest cases runs counter to the tough talk coming from the U.S. Department of Justice last summer. Billy Williams, then-U.S. Attorney for Oregon, vowed there would be consequences for the nightly graffiti, fires and vandalism outside the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse.
This certainly looks like a product of a change in leadership, although Williams stepped carefully through that political minefield with KGW’s reporter. Six months ago, Williams sang a very different tune when William Barr was AG and Donald Trump was president:
Local residents and anyone traveling to Portland with the intent to commit violence are on notice. There will be consequences for acts of violence. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to prosecuting people who impede or assault law enforcement officers, damage federal property, and set fire to buildings. Make no mistake: those who commit violence in the name of protest, will be investigated, arrested, prosecuted, and face prison time. Already more than 100 people have been arrested and more than 80 people are facing federal charges related to protest violence.
Williams certainly sounded like a prosecutor with solid cases in September. “After all that tough talk,” KGW’s reporter astutely wonders, “what happened?” Even if the evidence turned out to be a bit weak, prosecutors would seek dismissals without prejudice to allow the investigations to continue. Instead, the US Attorney has apparently folded entirely on dozens of cases, and one has to assume that the rest may not be far behind.
This looks less like an evidentiary problem and more like a political decision by the incoming administration. One has to wonder whether the Biden administration will treat the January 6 rioters with the same charity, or any of those who gather today at the Capitol seeking their March 4th fantasy inauguration. All of them should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law; attempts to pick and choose enforcement like this will only bring on more violence from the fringes on both sides.