Oregon governor considers release of 400 prisoners, as cops rationalize not breaking up riot violence

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Oregon Gov. Kate Brown may be lighting a powder keg in her state as she is reportedly thinking about releasing up to 400 prisoners as a precaution against COVID-19.

The Democrat governor has asked to be provided with a list of names of inmates who would be eligible to have their sentences commuted amid concerns about the coronavirus. But Brown’s move may be one more ingredient in a recipe for disaster for the state as it is coupled with the task facing overwhelmed police in Portland who are dealing with nightly riots for the last three months as well as a decision to stand down in a recent confrontation.

(Image: KGW screenshot)

“Given what we now know about the disease and its pervasiveness in our communities, it is appropriate to review for potential release individuals who face significant health challenges should they contract COVID-19,” Brown told Colette Peters, administrator of the state’s prison system, in a letter to the state Department of Corrections, according to OregonLive.com.

Inmates deemed “medically vulnerable” to COVID-19 as well as those facing the end of their sentences within the next two months were part of the list of those considered eligible while those who are thought to be an “unacceptable safety, security or compliance risk to the community” would not.

The Democrat also noted that inmates who could be released must not have committed crimes against other people and must have had good behavior for the last year while incarcerated.

More than 500 inmates out of a reported 634 confirmed cases of coronavirus have recovered and three inmates have died of the virus, OregonLive.com reported. Brown approved the early release of 57 state prisoners who were considered medically at risk back in June.

The release of as many as 400 inmates comes as the state is grappling with challenges on several fronts, notably violent demonstrations and rioting that have besieged Oregon’s largest city of Portland for months. Police have had their hands full dealing with the anarchy and found themselves on the defensive after an incident this weekend prompted criticism from civil rights advocates and Democratic Mayor Ted Wheeler.

“When you interject yourself as the police into this volatile mix sometimes it has a worse intention or worse outcome than what was happening initially,” Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said at a news conference Tuesday, responding to questions about why police did not get involved in a clash between hundreds of rival protesters.

Pro-police protesters at a “Back the Blue” rally on Saturday clashed with Black Lives Matter supporters in confrontations that often grew physical and at times, involved paintball guns, rocks and fireworks, according to The Oregonian.

“Sometimes the more prudent course is to not get involved,” Deputy Police Chief Chris Davis told the news outlet. “You run the risk of making a bad situation remarkably worse.”

Protesters were reportedly told by police to “self-monitor” while remaining at a distance from any potential criminal behavior and Davis noted that the police bureau had only 30 officers available to deal with the crowds because of a protest outside of the Northeast Portland police precinct that grew into a riot the night before.

“We want to make sure we prevent violence and prevent people from getting hurt,” Davis said. “It was not an easy decision to make.”

The city’s mayor, who is also the police commissioner, demanded answers about why police didn’t intervene in the skirmishes that involved members of the Proud Boys.

“The mayor is perfectly reasonable in asking for review for something that has caused concern the community,” Davis said.

“These events, and the decision making that goes into them, will always involve limitations, trade-offs and incomplete information in a rapidly evolving situation,” he said. “Finding out exactly what officers knew and at what times decisions were made in those circumstances is absolutely necessary.”

Portland’s ongoing violence prompted President Trump and Oregon’s governor to trade barbs on social media on Tuesday as the president “again” requested that Brown and Wheeler “call up the National Guard like should have been done three months ago.”

“They must stop calling these anarchists and agitators ‘peaceful protesters,'” Trump tweeted. “Come back into the real world! The Federal Government is ready to end this problem immediately upon your request.”

Brown fired back, saying that “Oregon isn’t interested” in Trump’s “political theater.”

In a separate tweet, Brown called for an end to the violence and vandalism.

“Let me be clear: It’s time for the violence and vandalism to end so Portland can focus on the important work to be done to achieve real change for racial justice. Those who have committed acts of violence will be held accountable,” Brown said. “We must work together to deescalate the potential for confrontation, by continuing to foster community conversations and utilizing trained law enforcement officers to keep the peace and protect free speech, not soldiers.”

Meanwhile, the governor’s plan to potentially release prisoners back onto the streets before quelling uncontrolled rioting was not received well on social media.

 

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Frieda Powers

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