Yamhill DA to probe claims of bias in Joey Gibson prosecution


A photo submitted as part of a complaint by lawyers who claim Joey Gibson is being selectively prosecuted for his participation in the infamous May Day brawl outside Cider Riot!.

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — The Yamhill County District Attorney’s Office will investigate allegations of “bias and profiling” in the prosecution of a local right-wing protest organizer.

After a federal judge ruled last month that the criminal case against Joey Gibson can proceed, lawyers for the Patriot Prayer leader and his associate filed complaints of selective prosecution against Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt.

“The Yamhill County District Attorney’s Office has agreed to review your allegations of violation of MCDA Policy by members of this office,” said the Multnomah D.A’s chief assistant, Jeffrey A. Howes, in a March 8 email. “Yamhill County District Attorney Brad Berry will oversee the investigation.”

In a message to the Tribune, Yamhill D.A. Berry said he will review a “very narrow” issue — whether the Multnomah District Attorney’s Office violated their internal policy on profiling.

“I will inform them of the end finding,” said Berry. “It will be up to their office to determine what, if anything, to do from there.”

Gibson and Russell Schultz each face a single count of riot for their conduct during an infamous May Day brawl involving Gibson’s band and black-clad anti-fascists who had gathered for an afterparty on the patio of the now defunct bar Cider Riot! in Northeast Portland on May 1, 2019.

Lawyers for the duo point to Schmidt’s August 2020 nonprosecution policy that presumptively dropped cases not involving property damage, violence, or threats during the year’s wave of Black Lives Matter demonstrations as evidence that left-wing protesters were treated with leniency compared to conservatives.

During the discovery phase of a separate civil case against Schmidt, the lawyers say they were provided with a state trial exhibit labeled “Joey rooted in Christ.jpg” — a photo showing Gibson wearing a stylized t-shirt depicting the crucifixion with tree roots growing from beneath the cross — which they claims shows evidence of religious persecution.

“The fact that MCDA staff would prosecute only conservatives where there is little or no evidence, but then dismiss left-wing cases, and then label photos of defendants based on religious affiliation is shocking and disgusting, not to mention clear evidence of violation of the policy,” said attorney Angus Lee, the former elected prosecutor for Grant County, Washington.

Under a 2015 law, all Oregon District Attorneys are required to have a written policy formally prohibiting biased enforcement of the law.

In his 140-page March 2 complaint, Lee also requested investigations into Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who serves as police commissioner, Portland Police Bureau Detective Chris Traynor and Deputy District Attorney Brad Kalbaugh. The current investigation only encompasses the D.A.’s office.

Lee’s previous gambit to halt the prosecution of Gibson was rejected by Oregon District Federal Judge Karin Immergut on Feb. 26, as earlier reported by the Courthouse News Service. Immergut’s 25-page ruling noted that Gibson can be seen on video encouraging “mutual combat” between the dueling groups.

“While the videos show Gibson discouraging the use of weapons at various points and generally avoiding physical confrontations, it also shows him appearing to encourage one-on-one fist fights,” the judge wrote. “Although plaintiffs make compelling arguments that their conduct does not rise to the level of tumultuous and violent’ conduct… they have not met their burden of showing that the charges against them are meritless.”

There is less video footage depicting Schultz’s conduct, Immergut noted.

“There is no evidence that the non-prosecution policy has been applied retroactively to any cases from before the George Floyd protests, nor has any evidence been presented indicating the political ideologies of those who have benefited from the new non-prosecution policy,” according to the ruling.

The MCDA sent KOIN 6 News the following statement in response to the complaint:

“The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office takes this allegation seriously. To avoid any potential conflict of interest during the review of this complaint, our office asked Yamhill County District Attorney Brad Berry to review the matter independently.

“The review of this allegation is an administrative matter, not criminal. No special prosecutor, as defined under Oregon law, has been appointed. The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office has no further comment.”

KOIN 6 News contributed to this Portland Tribune article.

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