US District Attorney’s Counsel speaks to Lents group

Find out why US Attorney Billy Williams’ Counsel, Suzanne Hayden, took her job, and what this federal agency does …

Coming to outer East Portland to tell about her work – at a Lents Neighborhood Livability Association meeting – is Suzanne Hayden , Counsel to US Attorney Billy Williams on Community Engagement and Strategic Enforcement. Read on, to learn what that means…

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon, the local face of the United States Department of Justice, has been in the news a lot lately, for stepping up and prosecuting suspects involved in Portland civil disturbances.

A long-time Portlander, Suzanne Hayden – Counsel to US Attorney Billy Williams on Community Engagement and Strategic Enforcement – came to the Lents Neighborhood Livability Association (LNLA) meeting at the Community Connection Center on Mount Scott, on October 8, to talk about the organization she represents.

Hayden told East Portland News, before the meeting began, that for about 18 years she’d worked with the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office. Then, for five years, she was the executive director of the Citizens Crime Commission – before joining the United States Attorney’s Office in 2016.

Portlander Suzanne Hayden talks in Lents about her background in the legal field.

With thirteen socially-distanced people gathered for this LNLA meeting, in a large room, Hayden spoke about their office’s mission, and involvement with Portland civil unrest cases.

“Being a ‘public servant’, I’m happy to be here, glad to speak with you, and to answer your questions,” smiled Hayden as she was introduced to the group.

Attendees learned that, although Hayden’s title is lengthy, it means that one of her primary responsibilities is for facilitating and coordinating community outreach for their office and it’s programs.

“In this office, we’re essentially litigators for the United States Government,” she said, and enumerated their three main functions:

  1. Prosecuting criminal cases brought by the federal government;
  2. Prosecuting and defense of civil cases in which the United States is a party; and
  3. Collecting debts owed to the federal government, which are administratively uncollectible.

“So, essentially, we are a large law firm,” Hayden remarked.

“People have a lot of questions about the civil unrest – if it is pertaining to criminal conduct; we litigate those,” Hayden explained

“We do this because we protect the rights of citizens to peacefully assemble and to express their First Amendment rights,” Hayden said. “And, when are people in the crowd who are committing crimes – particularly focused on harming law enforcement officers – that behavior distracts from those peaceful events. We take this very seriously.”

She continued, “No doubt, we’re at a very challenging time in our country, and there’s a lot to be heard; we absolutely support questions regarding race and equity.

“Our role is to protect that speech – but also to hold accountable those who would use this as an opportunity to commit crimes, hurt others, and cause damage to public and private buildings,” explained Hayden. “Many businesses have been damaged and looted; and that behavior is not acceptable – our role is to investigate, and hold those individuals accountable.”

Committing crimes against law enforcement personnel, while in a group ostensibly gathered to express First Amendment rights, distracts from the message of peaceful protesters, Suzanne Hayden says.

They work closely with law enforcement, including the Federal Protective Service, Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, Portland Police Bureau, and Oregon State Police, “We have had long-standing relationships with all of our law enforcement partners,” Hayden explained.

Asked if there was friction between their office and the local district attorney, as suggested in some news reports, Hayden said no. “We absolutely have a very strong partnership and relationship with the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office – in fact, it is – quite frankly – better than in many other metropolitan jurisdictions.”

“And, truthfully, my relationship with the current [Multnomah County] district attorney is as good as with the one who just left office. All these partnerships are strong, and it is incredibly important that they be maintained, because we all do a little part of protecting public safety,” Hayden said, before joining the meeting.

Suzanne Hayden listens to questions posed by the group.

One of the questions asked was how many cases have been taken up by the office.

“As of today, we have filed 94 federal cases ranging from arson, to assaulting federal officers, to civil disorder, to interfering with local law enforcement officers, and firefighters,” she responded. “When a person is creating civil unrest, we will investigate the incident, and perhaps bring a case.”

To learn more about the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon, CLICK HERE.

Find out more about the Lents Neighborhood Livability Association by visiting their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2020 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™

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