Portland Mayor Calls Release of Hate Crime Suspect “Outrageous”

The suspected attacker is back in custody. In the incident’s aftermath, no one wanted to take the blame.

A Willamette River swim event on the Eastbank Esplanade in 2018. A hate attack near the same location last week raised questions about Portland's criminal justice system. (THOMAS_TEAL)

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler issued a blistering rebuke of his city’s criminal justice system for releasing the alleged perpetrator of a violent hate crime back onto the streets over the July 4 holiday weekend.

“It is outrageous that someone accused of a violent bias crime against a parent and a child would be released before appearing in front of a judge,” Wheeler wrote in a statement. “Portland police should not have to arrest someone twice in a situation like this.”

Dylan Kesterson, a 34-year-old homeless man who allegedly attacked a family of Japanese background on the Eastside Esplanade on July 2, was arrested shortly after the attack. But, despite being accused of yelling racial slurs at a 5-year-old child and sending her father to the emergency room with a minor concussion, Kesterson was released without bail.

Three days later, on July 5, prosecutors reviewed Kesterson’s case file and demanded he be returned to custody. He was arrested the next day near his last known address, a downtown park.

Multnomah County’s presiding judge, Judith H. Matarazzo, like her counterparts across the state, had just issued new guidelines for pretrial detention, as required by state lawmakers’ 2021 effort at bail reform, Senate Bill 48, that went into effect July 1.

The county’s guidelines were precise: Someone accused of a first-degree bias crime, Oregon’s legal term for a hate crime, can be detained if they have a prior conviction in the past three years.

Kesterson’s record was clean, so he was allowed to walk.

On Tuesday, prosecutors scrambled to reverse the court’s decision to release Kesterson. They filed new charges, including second-degree attempted assault, and in an appeal to the judge demanding Kesterson’s detention, argued that Kesterson had committed a “violent felony” and was therefore ineligible for pretrial supervision. The judge agreed, and a warrant was issued for Kesterson’s arrest.

In the incident’s aftermath, no one wanted to take the blame. A spokesman for the police, Sgt. Kevin Allan, took issue with the idea that the initial charges originally suggested by the arresting officers were too light, noting that a first-degree bias crime is a Class C felony on its own, “and the charges added did not increase the crime classification.”

The court’s chief criminal judge, Cheryl Albrecht, released a statement emphasizing that the decision followed the new guidelines. Furthermore, she noted, the old guidelines were no more strict.

None of this seemed to calm the mayor. “The criminal justice system needs to be reviewed from top to bottom,” he said.

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