District Attorney’s Office Describes “Unprecedented” Turnover Amid Rising Gun Violence Cases

“Exhaustion and burnout make it impossible to give our best to vulnerable victims.”

Multnomah County Courthouse. (Sam Gehrke)

The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office says it is facing an “unprecedented” turnover of prosecutors as gun violence in Portland is on pace to eclipse last year’s historic record.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Kirsten Snowden said Thursday that 12 to 15 deputy district attorneys have left the DA’s office in the past year.

“And that’s just unprecedented,” Snowden said while speaking at a press conference this morning held by Mayor Ted Wheeler and local law enforcement officials.

“Unfortunately, I can say that we’re becoming overwhelmed,” Snowden said. “Our criminal justice system is simply in crisis....We have reallocated the resources that we have to focus on gun violence. and I can say that, unfortunately, just this week alone, we initiated the prosecution in three separate cases where different people had been shot in the face.”

Snowden said gun violence-related cases are her office’s “No. 1 priority,” but that backlogs and large caseloads are fueling employee burnout. Meanwhile, gun violence cases in Portland are trending upward, according to law enforcement officials.

Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said Thursday that, year to date, there have been 20 homicides in Portland, 19 of which resulted from gunfire. He said there have been almost 650 shootings so far in 2022, which averages out to 21.9 shootings per week.

“If this trend continues, we will end the year with just over 1,500 shootings,” Lovell said.

The DA’s office said this pattern will affect prosecutorial workload.

“In 2022, we are on pace to set a new record for the number of gun violence cases that we’ve issued,” Snowden said.

She noted that several of the recent departures in her office were senior-level prosecutors, and that the Multnomah County DA’s Office is reaching out to district attorney’s offices in other counties in an effort to fill staffing vacancies.

“There are other jurisdictions that are the size of Portland that have twice as many prosecutors as our office does,” she said, “and I think what’s happened is just a confluence of factors that have contributed to the situation that we’re in now.”

Snowden read statements from two prosecutors who recently quit, including a deputy DA who left less than a week ago.

“Historically, trial unit DDAs have heavy workloads. But in the past two years, the significant rise in homicides and violent felonies combined with the backlog of cases led to unsustainable workloads,” the employee’s statement said. “Exhaustion and burnout make it impossible to give our best to vulnerable victims.”

Snowden also read the statement of a deputy DA who recently left after 20 years in that office.

“The feeling in the office at the time I left was that dedicated, public service-minded people were being ground into the dirt under the crushing weight of exploding workloads caused by staffing reductions,” the deputy DA said. “It’s just not sustainable.”

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