Oregon changes release policy for bias crimes

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — Defendants charged with first-degree bias crime in Oregon will no longer be allowed to walk out of jail the same day. Oregon Chief Justice Meagan Flynn signed an order Tuesday requiring suspects in the most serious racially motivated attacks be held in jail, at least until arraignment before a judge.

The change in statewide guidelines for pretrial detention follows a racially motivated attack last summer involving a family of Japanese descent. Police said Dylan Kesterson punched a father and his 5-year-old daughter while they were riding bicycles on the Eastbank Esplanade. Kesterson was able to walk free hours after the alleged assault. He was subsequently linked to at least three prior racist attacks in downtown Portland.

Kesterson’s release back onto the streets after the alleged attack sparked citywide outrage. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler demanded a review of the criminal justice system.

Asian American groups, prosecutors and crime victims pushed to change statewide policy that allowed Kesterson to be released from jail immediately after being booked on a first-degree bias crime.

The guidelines for when to release defendants prior to their first court appearance is based on a statewide order that went into effect on July 1, 2022, one day prior to Kesterson’s arrest.

In general, the guidelines require that people charged with more serious offenses — including violent felonies, sex crimes and domestic violence felonies or misdemeanors — not be released until they appear before a judge. Bias crimes weren’t on that list.

Kesterson currently remains in custody, according to court records, although his case has been delayed because he’s refused to participate in mental health evaluations and won’t come to court for fitness to process hearings.

Chief Justice Flynn’s order modifying the pretrial release guidelines is effective immediately, although each county circuit court will have to update its own policies by July 1.

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