U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch made her comments Thursday during a visit to Oregon in which she recognized Portland’s community policing efforts.
A federal judge warned an assistant U.S. attorney last week that if he was going to file more charges against standoff leader Ammon Bundy and others accused of the occupation, he had best do it soon because the defendants have a right to a speedy trial.
Lynch declined to specify what specific charges will be filed, saying they’ll be discussed once the action is taken.
As of now, Bundy and another two dozen defendants each face a single charge of conspiracy in connection with the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which began Jan. 2 and lasted until Feb. 11. The occupiers wanted the U.S. government to relinquish public lands to locals and free two ranchers who they say were wrongly imprisoned for setting fires.
Asked to address complaints that law enforcement should have acted quicker to end the standoff and would have if the occupiers were Muslim or African American, Lynch said every case is different based on unique circumstances.
“One of the things you always have to consider when dealing with individuals who are essentially going to break the law to make a stand is: ‘What do they want?’ ” she said. “And at one point does your response shift… to the provocation that they may be seeking. Our goal was always to have as peaceful a resolution of that situation as possible.”
Lynch thanked the residents of Harney County for not giving in to what she said the occupiers tried to provoke. She said the residents not only endured the occupation of the refuge, but of their town, “as the individuals supporting the Bundy group walked amongst them with guns and veiled threats.”
Lynch visited Portland as part of her six-city tour of places seen as successful in implementing aspects of good police work that were listed in a White House report last year.
Community policing was identified as Portland’s strength, and Lynch visited a middle school where uniformed officers teach life skills intended to help students resist gangs.
The kids hesitated to speak, becoming shy in front of the strangers and televisions cameras. When Lynch asked what they liked about the class, one girl answered: “It teaches us to stay out of trouble.”
Lynch also addressed a 2012 government investigation that found Portland police engaged in a pattern of excessive force against the mentally ill. A negotiated settlement called for changes to Portland policies, training and oversight.
She said the department still has improvements to make, but “we prefer to view it as a positive work in progress.”