Portlander Who Attacked Gay Men is First to Be Convicted Under Oregon’s New Hate Crime Law

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by Alex Zielinski

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A Portland man has become the first Oregonian to be convicted under the state’s newly reformed bias crime law—leaving him with a felony charge instead of what would have previously been a misdemeanor.

Don Kirchhoff, 50, was convicted on Friday, October 18, for violently targeting two men because of their sexual orientation and race.

According to the arrest affidavit, two men were sitting on a bench outside the Pearl District’s Lovejoy Bakery on September 1 when Kirchhoff confronted them with homophobic and racist language. When one man stood up to address Kirchhoff’s hateful tirade, Kirchhoff forcefully pushed the man into a brick wall. The two men started walking away from Kirchhoff, but he pulled on one of the men’s shirt. When that man turned around, Kirchhoff punched him in the face.

Kirchhoff pled guilty to one count of bias crime in the first degree, a felony charge. He will serve 15 days in jail and remain on probation for three years. He’s also barred from coming within 500 feet of Lovejoy Bakery.

According to the Oregonian, Kirchhoff’s lawyer argued in court Friday that her client was extremely drunk when he confronted the two men. Kirchhoff’s sentence included a mandate to undergo a mental health evaluation and a drug and alcohol evaluation—and complete any resulting treatment ordered by the court.

If Kirchhoff hurled hate speech at these men just two months earlier, he would have undoubtedly faced a lesser charge. During the 2019 legislative session, state lawmakers passed a bill that dropped an outdated requirement from Oregon’s “intimidation” law: That two or more people had to commit a bias crime to receive a first-degree felony charge.

The legislation not only allows prosecutors to stick individuals with first-degree charges (previously, people acting alone were only charged with a second-degree misdemeanor), it also renames the crime of “intimidation” to “bias crime,” and adds “gender identity” to the list of factors that a person could be victimized for.

The new law went into effect on July 15, 2019.

“We hope Mr. Kirchhoff will recognize that amount of harm he caused to the victims and the community,” said BJ Park, a Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney who litigated this case. “This is a sentence that provides for probation at this time but still contemplates the possibility of Mr. Kirchhoff receiving a jail sentence if the court determines he is ever in violation of his probation.”

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