Multnomah County's next district attorney vows reforms
He's not quite ready to stand guard along the barricades…
But Mike Schmidt is riding the very same wave of uprising into the top spot at the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office — now on a souped-up timeline that will put him in office five months early on Aug. 1.
Thirty-nine years old and therefore one of the oldest of the millennials, Schmidt captured three-fourths of the vote in May by pledging reforms such as eliminating cash bail and repealing mandatory minimum sentences. He believes those proposals are more likely than ever to become reality, due to the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.
"This just feels like an amazing moment to me," Schmidt told the Tribune. "Change is happening every minute here."
As for outgoing county prosecutor Rod Underhill, he announced an early retirement, effective July 31, to make way for immediate changes and long-term reforms.
Here's where Schmidt stands on the issues:
On prosecuting protesters
Schmidt says he will take "a hard look" at the legality of arrests made during the city's three-week-long spate of unrest — noting that district attorneys in Miami, San Francisco and Manhattan have already announced plans to drop charges en masse.
The DA-elect says his clemency will focus on peaceful demonstrators charged with curfew violations or interfering with police because they ignored a dispersal order.
"It doesn't sit well with me that we're going to prosecute people who are trying to tell us that something is wrong with our system," he said.
On defunding the police
Schmidt says he supports programs along the lines of Portland Street Response, which will send paramedics and behavioral health specialists from Portland Fire & Rescue to respond to some 9-1-1 calls.
The pilot program, originally funded at $500,000 and with only one assigned staff member, will now receive $4.8 million in the next budget as part of a broader reallocation
Schmidt isn't quite ready to dismantle the law enforcement state apparatus, however.
"I don't get caught up in the idea that we should eliminate all police officers," he said, "but I think it's completely fair for the community to ask when do we want a police officer to respond, and when do we want to have some other response."
On violence at protests
Schmidt said he does not support the fires sparked at the Multnomah County Justice Center, which houses the downtown jail, police bureau headquarters and some DA functions, during the first day of wide-scale protest.
But he acknowledged that the towering edifice has come to represent problems with the system, highlighting the disproportionate number of minorities incarcerated locally.
"The Justice Center has become the symbol of people wanting to see change," he said. "At the same time, we've got to keep people safe."
On state legislature reform
Schmidt threw his shoulder in support of the slate of police reforms proposed by the state lawmakers in the nine-member People of Color Caucus.
One bill, championed by Portland Democrat Sen. Lew Frederick, would prevent labor law arbitrators from weakening disciplinary action against police, while another bill would task the state's Attorney General with investigating police shootings.
Schmidt had called for something similar on the campaign trail. "Quite honestly, I thought it was going to be a real uphill battle, and now it seems like we're legitimately going to have a debate in Salem," he said.
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