Ethics complaint dismissed against candidate for Multnomah County DA

By Conrad Wilson (OPB)
April 26, 2024 11:01 p.m.

An ethics complaint filed this month against a longtime prosecutor running for Multnomah County district attorney was dismissed Friday by the Oregon State Bar.

The complaint alleged Nathan Vasquez violated ethical rules and his role as a prosecutor by publicly accusing a man of being a serial killer, even though he is not currently charged with a crime.


“Having reviewed all the relevant information submitted, I conclude that there is no sufficient basis to warrant a referral to Disciplinary Counsel,” Linn Davis, assistant general counsel for the Oregon State Bar, stated in dismissing the complaint.

Vasquez is currently a senior deputy district attorney and is running against his boss, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt.

Man in navy blue suit with pink tie and greying, slicked back hair

Senior deputy Multnomah County District Attorney Nathan Vasquez is hoping to unseat his current boss, District Attorney Mike Schmidt, in an election to be held in spring 2024.

Multnomah County District Attorney's Office

The complaint was filed by Aliza Kaplan, a professor who directs the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School. Kaplan, who supports Schmidt’s reelection, raised concerns Vasquez knowingly made false and misleading statements that could affect any future legal proceedings if the unnamed person Vasquez referenced were to be criminally charged.

Vasquez criticized Schmidt’s tenure in a statement published in the Oregon Secretary of State’s Voter’s Guide, which is posted online and will be mailed to voters before the May election.

“Under my opponent’s watch, a violent criminal who was arrested for kidnapping and assaulting a police officer was released from prison,” the statement reads. “Once free, he murdered four women. This is unacceptable.”

Vasquez said he was referencing Jesse Lee Calhoun, a 39 year-old man currently incarcerated at the Snake River Correctional Institution in eastern Oregon.

In July 2023, law enforcement agencies investigating the deaths of four women in Polk, Clackamas and Multnomah counties said they “identified at least one person of interest that is linked to all four of the decedents” and that there was no danger to the public.

District Attorney Mike Schmidt speaking at a podium while a small crowd of political leaders stand behind him.

FILE - Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt speaking at a press conference at the Multnomah County Courthouse in Portland, Ore., on Dec. 14, 2022.

April Ehrlich / OPB

Calhoun has not been charged in any of the deaths.

Typically, prosecutors take great pains to not comment publicly before charges are filed and a case goes to trial. Public announcements about charges against defendants issued by the district attorney’s office usually carry the disclaimer that charges are allegations that have not been proven in court and that the defendant is presumed innocent.

When the ethics complaint was filed earlier this month, Vasquez said he had done nothing wrong and his statement followed election law.

“This complaint was nothing more than a political stunt from Mike Schmidt’s supporters to distract from his failures as District Attorney,” Vasquez said in a statement Friday. “Our community deserves to know that they are less safe with Mike Schmidt as District Attorney.”

Related: Defense lawyers say Multnomah County DA candidate violated ethics by accusing client of being a serial killer

Kaplan said she was disappointed with the state bar’s decision.

“It is incredibly troubling that any prosecutor would do this strictly for the purpose of political advantage,” she said.

In late March, defense attorneys with Metropolitan Public Defender who are representing Calhoun, privately complained in a letter to prosecutors about Vasquez’s statements.

Related: Experts question link between early prison release and deaths of 4 Oregon women

Carl Macpherson is executive director for Metropolitan Public Defender and supports Schmidt’s reelection. He told OPB that Vasquez went too far.

“Regardless of whether the bar complaint was dismissed and whether he can say it or not, it was entirely inappropriate to do so, particularly under the American Bar Association standards for prosecutors,” Macpherson said. “A prosecutor’s job is to do justice, not to convict. To say in a widely disseminated publication that someone committed murder when they have not been charged is wholly inappropriate.”

Schmidt also faces an ethics complaint with the bar filed by a former Multnomah County prosecutor over how his office handled two commutations, a legal mechanism where people convicted of a crime can get their sentence shortened by the governor.