Know your local prosecutors: Scott Asphaug

Scott Asphaug is the interim U.S. district attorney for the state of Oregon. He’s responsible for prosecuting federal charges against protestors like Malik, Simona, and Cozcacuauhtli.

Individual assistant district attorneys handle each specific case, but Asphaug is ultimately responsible for all cases that pass through the office. Asphaug and his team have already prosecuted a number of protestors from Portland for federal charges, routinely seeking sentences that include years of incarceration and substantial fines. He uses plea deals and long court processes to pressure people facing federal charges into giving up their right to a trial, which lets him claim successful prosecutions even without enough evidence to go to court.

Prior to joining the Department of Justice, Asphaug worked as an attorney for Multnomah County, where his responsibilities included advising the Multnomah County Sheriff on legal issues. Before that, Asphaug worked with the Portland Police Association (the union for Portland police officers). During that time, Asphaug represented police officers during force of use investigations. Weirdly, the Department of Justice doesn’t see all of Asphaug’s work to protect police as a conflict of interest when prosecuting people who protest against police violence.

The interim part of his title means that Asphaug is supposed to be temporary. He was appointed on February 28, 2021, when the previous federal district attorney, Billy Williams, resigned. Because U.S. district attorneys are supposed to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Asphaug is in charge until the Senate gets around to confirming someone else. Any replacement, however, will have some sort of experience in the district attorney’s office. Hopefully, they won’t have worked directly with the Portland Police Association. It’s hard to guess when we’ll find out, though — there’s several steps still to go before the Senate will even schedule confirmation hearings.

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