PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The man accused of assaulting a man and his five-year-old daughter pleaded not guilty to seven crimes during an arraignment hearing. Dylan Kesterson appeared virtually after he was released hours after the assault on Saturday.
His victim, Ryuichiro Abe, a resident of California and of Japanese descent, described the attack to the court Tuesday.
“He hit my head numerous times and actually he was focusing on hitting our heads and not other parts of our body and we felt we may be killed,” Abe said.
The Multnomah County District Attorney says Abe’s daughter was hit once in the head, but was wearing a helmet and did not need medical attention. Abe, however, was hit several times and went to a hospital for care.
The DA’s office also notes Kesterson was yelling racial slurs at the family. Kesterson was originally arrested on intimidation and bias crimes on Saturday, and was released that evening.
Abe, for who English is not his first language, reacted to Kesterson’s release during court Tuesday.
“It is not reasonable or acceptable,” he told the court. “I hope to avoid exposing the other people in danger because of this deranged man.”
KOIN 6 learned that, despite being accused of hitting a five-year-old, Kesterson’s release was because of a change in Oregon law, and subsequent instruction from Oregon’s Chief Justice on the Supreme Court. The change went into effect one day before the assault, on July 1.
According to Multnomah County Circuit Court Chief Criminal Judge Cheryl Albrecth, the change stipulates that people who are accused of bias crimes should be released if they do not have a previous assault charge. Court documents show Kesterson had no previous convictions.
During Tuesday’s arraignment hearing, the Multnomah County DA’s office brought more charges against Kesterson that would qualify him for pretrial custody, such as assault and attempted assault.
The court requested Kesterson back in court Wednesday morning for a hearing to determine if he should be brought back in custody.
“It just creates more fear in a time when we’re trying to bring people back to the city, it has the opposite effect,” said Randall Blazak, chair of the Coalition Against Hate Crimes. “I think the fact that these folks who are from outside the city visiting (are) going to add to the perception that Portland is kind of this lawless place where people are just randomly targeted.”
Abe’s family was visiting from California when the attack occurred. The holiday weekend was one to attract tourists to the area, with Fourth of July events and the Waterfront Blues Festival.
In a statement, Travel Oregon responded by saying they were “devastated” to learn of the news.
“The safety of our visitors remains a top priority and we support our local partners as they continue to explore and implement viable solutions for city-wide safety,” the statement said.
The assault comes as bias crimes and discrimination incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been increasing, according to the Oregon Justice Department’s hotline reports.
The hotline reports a 53% increase in the monthly average of bias crimes from 2020 to 2021 and shows 2022 is seeing a similar trend to last year. Kendal Kosai, the director of policy for the Anti-defamation League’s western office, reports online threats against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have doubled in the area.
“Things that happen online have real-world, physical world consequences and we have to make sure that we make sure that this doesn’t become normalized in our communities,” Kosai said.
Kosai says it’s up to community leaders to speak out against incidents like what happened to Abe this weekend. Several city leaders condemned the attack when asked by KOIN 6.
“What we know about hate crimes is that they have a wide impact,” said Blazak. “It’s just not the individuals who are attacked, it’s those communities that now live in greater fear that they’ll be the next ones.”