Murmurs: Portland’s District Attorney Fights Back

In other news: Senate election triggers pushback.

PORTLAND’S DISTRICT ATTORNEY FIGHTS BACK: Mike Schmidt is on the defensive. Earlier this month, Portland Monthly published a less than flattering profile of the Multnomah County district attorney—title: “Schmidt Show”—noting that his office has been making efforts to “change the narrative” as his race for reelection approaches in 2024. How does a progressive district attorney survive in a city where the specter of rising crime is dominating political debate? Schmidt’s response: some old-fashioned finger pointing. He’s taking aim at public defenders, who, citing overwork, are refusing to take on some new cases. “From this day forward, my office will publish every case dismissed or set over as a result of this crisis weekly until it is resolved,” his office said in a statement Monday. The release listed 300 cases. It follows on the heels of last week’s data dump showing that his office is prosecuting property crime at a similar rate to his predecessor. Another statistic included in the dump: Portland cops’ property crime clearance rates are plummeting.

SENATE ELECTION TRIGGERS PUSHBACK: Following the retirement of Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem), who has led the upper chamber of the Oregon Legislature for 20 years, Senate Democrats last week elected Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner (D-Lake Oswego) to succeed Courtney and tabbed state Sen. Kate Lieber (D-Portland) to be the new majority leader. Courtney made bipartisanship a byword in his two decades of service. Wagner is less likely to do so—at least judging by the reaction to his pick from the GOP side of the aisle. The choice of Wagner, who came to the Legislature in 2018 after a decade as a lobbyist for the American Federation of Teachers union, inflamed Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend). Knopp’s party grabbed one seat from Democrats on Nov. 8, depriving them of a three-fifths supermajority (Dems still hold 17 of 30 seats). Wagner’s presidency must still be ratified by the entire Senate in January, and Knopp said in a statement he can forget about getting any Republican votes. Knopp said Wagner is “untrustworthy, deeply partisan, and doesn’t have the necessary skills to run the Senate in a bipartisan fashion.”

CLACKAMAS COUNTY REPUBLICANS MOVE RIGHT: As WW reported earlier, the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners moved right on Nov. 8 and, although nonpartisan, now includes four Republicans among its five commissioners. The county’s party apparatus moved even further right—into extremism. In party elections last week, Daniel Tooze, a self-proclaimed Proud Boy from Oregon City, who came up short in his bid for the Republican nomination in House District 40 in May, won election as vice chairman. And for party chair, members selected Rick Riley, who is associated with the county chapter of the group Take Back America, which denies the results of the 2020 presidential election and espouses an “America first” policy. Tooze and Riley could not be reached for comment.

POLICE BUREAU’S PLANE HELPS NAB TEEN WEED BURGLARS: Portland police used one of their two single-engine Cessnas to round up three teenagers suspected of breaking in to a string of marijuana dispensaries in Southeast Portland in the early hours of Nov. 21. The spree began at 1:30 am, when the teens pulled up to a Nectar location on Southeast Woodstock Boulevard in a stolen car. They grabbed some weed and fled in a second getaway car. Within the next two hours, they hit two more dispensaries, driving their stolen silver Kia Soul into the doors of the second before fleeing. AIR1, a Portland police “air support unit,” was tracking the car from above, and police pulled it over shortly afterward. The three kids, all between the ages of 14 and 15, were booked in the Donald E. Long Juvenile Detention Home. The chase shows police deploying resources to crack down on burglaries and armed robberies that have plagued cannabis shopkeepers for two years (“Grass at Gunpoint,” WW, July 27). Police Chief Chuck Lovell praised the effort, noting that cops “were able to record video of the capture, which is being provided as an illustration of our officers’ great work and [the air support unit’s] value as a tool in fighting crime.” The provided four-minute video was shot with an infrared camera and uploaded to YouTube. It shows the teens hiding behind a shed, tossing the bag of loot over the fence, and then running—all as the plane radios their location to officers on the ground.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.