State to Review Policies in the Wake of a Racially Motivated Attack in Portland

The Oregon Judicial Department is “reviewing” statewide guidelines for pretrial detention of suspects accused of bias crimes.

EASTBANK: Cycling near the Hawthorne Bridge. (Brian Burk)

In the wake of a Portland man’s racially motivated assault this summer on a Japanese family out for a bicycle ride on the Eastbank Esplanade, prosecutors and advocates lobbied the state to update court policies that allowed the accused perpetrator to walk out of jail that same day.

Their pleas were answered, according to a state fact sheet updated late last month. The Oregon Judicial Department is reviewing the policy that currently does not require immediate detention of suspects accused of bias crimes.

That policy went into effect July 1, the result of a 2021 law that required Oregon’s chief justice to create statewide guidelines specifying when suspects can be immediately released and when they should be held awaiting trial. The criteria are essentially a list of crimes bad enough for the suspect to automatically spend a night in jail. Bias crimes, even when they rise to the level of felonies, weren’t on it.

Dylan Kesterson was arrested for the assault on the Japanese family a day after the policy went into effect, triggering scrutiny of the new law from prosecutors and victim advocates. Kesterson, who was living on the streets at the time, was subsequently connected to multiple anti-Asian attacks.

Three weeks after the Eastbank Esplanade attack, the Oregon District Attorneys Association sent a letter to Oregon Chief Justice Martha Walters requesting the guidelines be updated to require suspects of bias crimes be held in jail, at least until arraigned in front of a judge. “Victims of bias crimes [have] a strong interest in having a judge make a release determination because of heightened vulnerability and safety issues,” wrote the association’s executive director, Michael Wu. He noted that the committee tasked with implementing Senate Bill 48, the new law, had been unable to reach consensus on the issue.

That committee is now being asked to go back and try again. Changing the guidelines for bias crimes is the only proposal “currently under review,” says Todd Sprague, spokesman for the Judicial Department.

When that will happen is unclear. “There is no specific timeline for the decision-making process,” a state fact sheet notes.

If Walters does decide to make changes to the statewide guidelines, each county circuit court will then be tasked with updating its own policies. “These are major changes to a complex system that take time to adapt to,” Multnomah County trial court administrator Barbara Marcille tells WW.

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