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Multnomah County DA Mike Schmidt comments on Portland police officer indictment

Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt announced Tuesday that his office has indicted Portland Police Bureau Officer Corey Budworth on one charge of fourth degree assault. The indictment is the second against a Portland police officer to stem from last year’s racial justice protests, during which the bureau documented more than 6,000 use-of-force incidents against protesters. DA Schmidt explains what happens next.

This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. Yesterday, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt announced the indictment of Portland Police officer Corey Budworth on one count of fourth degree assault. The indictment accuses Budworth of ‘unlawfully knowingly and recklessly causing physical injury’ to Terry Jacobs, an activist photographer who was at a protest in August of 2020. This is only the second indictment against the Portland police officer stemming from last year’s racial justice protests. The bureau documented more than 6,000 use of force incidents against protesters, over the course of months of protests. I talked to Mike Schmidt earlier this morning. I asked how he decided to bring this case to a Grand Jury.

Mike Schmidt: Well, we looked at a bunch of the cases over the summer. We saw, obviously, video on social media and posted, we, at the time for this case, we didn’t know specifically who the woman, the victim in this case was. So it took some work to figure that out. But once we figured that out, we obviously interviewed her, took her wishes into consideration, looked at the facts and the evidence, felt from our perspective that a crime had been committed and decided to present it to the Grand Jury, to see if the community members who sit there agreed, and they did.

Miller: This is obviously one of many filmed incidents over the last year that led to allegations of excessive use of force by Portland police, in the court of public opinion, on twitter and social media. Why is it that this one led to an indictment when so many others haven’t? And what was different about this case?

Schmidt: Okay, well, you know, there are still other cases that we’re looking at and reaching out to victims to see if they’re interested in prosecution, and also considering the evidence that we have and whether or not it would be appropriate for prosecution, but for right now, this is the case that we were able to get all of those things together and once we reviewed the evidence, figured that there was enough information. So, this is one case of multiple that we’re looking at and have looked at. So,  it’s not necessarily an outlier that way.

Miller: Can you give us a sense... I understand prosecutors often don’t like to talk publicly about cases before you, announce indictments, but just basic number sense. You said there are others. How many are you looking at right now? How many could lead to indictments?

Schmidt: Well, we take any, if people were to file police reports, we look at those cases, and sometimes people don’t, and it’s not just for these protest cases, but for any case, if we become aware that a crime may have been committed and we have the ability to reach out to victims, we will do that to see if they’re interested in prosecution. So this is not different from that. But, you know, we looked at, we have looked at multiple cases already, and I think there are still several more that we’re continuing to look at, as well as the Department of Justice is looking at some cases. So, you know, I can’t say specifically how many we’re looking at, but, you know, when people are interested in reporting and there’s evidence there, we review it and decide whether or not to go forward.

Miller: In terms of, you know, say, reaching out to people who you think might have been victims of crimes or to their attorneys, do you need the participation of alleged victims to go forward? Or can you pursue criminal cases if you think that there is evidence that a crime has been committed?

Schmidt: It depends, there are some crimes where it may be possible to prove them without the participation of the victim. But typically, for these types of cases, when, especially, you’re looking at assault charges, you know, the level of harm, the physical injury, all of those things are, is only information that we can get from the person who was injured. We can’t just figure that out from seeing a video. So for the most part, it’s very, it’s necessary to have victim participation, just because we wouldn’t necessarily know what the extent of the harm, injury or damage would be without that.

Miller: What’s the possible punishment for a conviction of fourth degree assault? That is the charge against Officer Corey Budworth.

Schmidt: Yeah, the maximum under the law would be a year in jail and a fine I believe around $6,250. you know, rarely would people receive the maximum. So you know, we’ll look at the case. Obviously we take input from the victim, we look at the facts, we look at criminal history,  and we’ll discuss whether or not, you know, what would be appropriate. But we approach every case individually and take into a host of considerations before we would make an offer of how to resolve it.

Miller: Yesterday, the Portland Police Association, that’s the Union of Rank and File Officers, they put out a statement about the indictment. It noted that quote ‘PPB’s’ own experts reviewed Officer Budworth’s actions and found them reasonable, permissible and in accordance with his training.’ The Bureau, I should also note, they found that the strike to Jacob’s head as captured on video, was not intentional. Independent police review called that a push. if you as a prosecutor can look at something and find it criminal, but the police can look at the same thing and say basically everything is fine. Do you think that there is a bigger issue here than one officer’s actions?

Schmidt: Well, you know, certainly we have different things that we’re looking for different standards, that we look to and we bring in the evidence that we had and talking to the victim, and obviously our Grand Jurors believed that this was criminal. Is that a bigger problem for the system? I don’t know. I guess I’ll let other people weigh in on that. I think that we’re doing what we can and believe that this violates the criminal law.

Miller: Why leave this to somebody else? Because I’m just wondering if you’re looking at this and you’re saying I believe this violated criminal law and it could be serious enough to warrant a year in prison, and police investigators look at and say there’s nothing to see here. Do you not think that’s a problem?

Schmidt: Well,I think it’s a good question. And the PPA did put out in their statement that this was, and of course this isn’t necessarily evidence, this is their opinion, but this is how they believe the officer was trained and he did what he was assigned to do by his training. If that’s true, I think that is problematic. I think that we can’t be training officers to do things that violate criminal law. So I think that this does raise some questions as to, what does this mean when something can be criminal, but also according to PPA, pursuant to training.

Miller: The union also called this a politically driven charging decision. That was the headline in a sense of the press release they put out yesterday, I understand you don’t want to litigate this case on the radio right now. Your prosecutors, if this goes to trial, they will, you know, make their case in court. But where does this leave us as a county, as a community? When we have such a gulf right now between the union representing law enforcement, and we can see them as a kind of voice for officers in the city, and criminal prosecution.

Schmidt: Well, we have much different roles. My role is to have this office look at the facts of every case individually, apply it to the law, and make a determination of one, whether or not a criminal violation occurred, and then, two, whether or not we should proceed with charges for that criminal violation. Obviously, the union’s role is much different. They are there to protect their members and have had a much different mission than we do. So we’re doing our job. Obviously, there’s nothing political about it. We applied the facts, presented those to the Grand Jury, to the law and members of our community who served in that decided that this did, in fact, rise to the level of criminality.

Miller: You told the New York Times that police seem to view your prosecution policy from an ‘us vs. them’ perspective, you said it was like, there’s our team and there’s their team and you’re on their team and you’re not on our team. How would you describe your relationship with police right now? And I should note, I mean, in case it’s not obvious, that you also have to work very closely with them when, you know, when you’re moving forward with most normal criminal prosecutions that don’t involve police officers.

Schmidt: Yeah,well, I think the relationship really, is really getting a lot better, to be honest. Even notwithstanding what we’re talking about today. We’ve done a lot of work. I’ve worked with Chief Lovell, his Assistant Chiefs, Deputy Chiefs, and I really feel like we’re getting on the same page. I was talking about a moment in time back last summer when that was the sentiment and that’s how I felt it was related to me. Since then, I think we’ve really gotten a lot more on the same page working together and how we’re going to focus on people who are actually doing the harm and not just, you know, mass arrests of people who are showing up at protests. And, you know, at the end of the day, you know, we have a lot of commonality. I mean, we both want public safety, we both want the community protected. So there are a lot of areas that, you know, we work closely together and I know, on this case, they helped us investigate this case, one of their own. So, you know, I think, when I got started last summer, it was a challenging moment and we weren’t necessarily on the same page, but I really do feel like we’re really getting there.

Miller:What is the timeline for the Budworth case right now?

Schmidt: Well, this will just launch the case, obviously Officer Budworth will be arraigned, I think a typical misdemeanor timeline and of course, we’re just hopefully on the precipice of opening back up from the pandemic, slowing our courts. So, it really could still be a while, especially if this was going to go all the way to trial, it could be a while from now before we get to that resolution. So, it might be a little while.

Miller: Mike Schmidt, thanks very much.

Schmidt: Thank you, Dave.

Miller: Mike Schmidt is the Multnomah County District Attorney.


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