Federal Court Pops Up In Grant County For Rainbow Gathering

Jun 26, 2017

As many as 20,000 people are converging on a meadow in the Malheur National Forest in Oregon’s Grant County this week for the Rainbow Gathering.

The annual event attracts hippies and travelers from around the country. But a small team of federal prosecutors and judges will also be there.

The U.S. Forest Service is working with federal judges from the District of Oregon and assistant prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to set up a temporary court in Grant County that can handle federal citations during the gathering.

"It’s something that’s been employed at past gatherings — to have assistant U.S. attorneys forward deploy to the gathering to be able to process these citations and have resolution on them before people leave the state," said Kevin Sonoff, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney for Oregon.

The remote court will be able to handle everything from simple parking violations to drug offenses and minor assaults.

Prosecutors have issued around 30 citations so far, Sonoff said.

It’s not clear to what extent federal prosecutors will charge people who use marijuana during the gathering, however.

Sonoff said the U.S. Attorney's Office is taking “a measured approach” to the gathering and its priority is protecting the safety of the participants and the residents of Grant County.

Oregon voted to legalize marijuana in 2014. Preventing marijuana use on federal property, such as forests, is one of the government’s stated enforcement priorities in states that have legalized the drug.

Grant County has concurrent jurisdiction with the federal government over the Malheur National Forest. District Attorney Jim Carpenter said he's asked federal law enforcement agencies to take the lead on any issues that arise during the gathering.

"I’ve indicated to the federal authorities that I’d prefer they handle those, simply because they have more resources than I do," Carpenter said. "By and large, the people who come through have been respectful and have been nice.”

The Grant County Justice Court reported it has seen "a small tick up" in misdemeanor cases as people have started arriving for the gathering.

That court has jurisdiction over misdemeanors in the county that take place on state and private land.

Grant County Justice of Peace Kathy Stinnett said she has handled two shoplifting cases, a disorderly conduct case, and a harassment case that involved suspects who she expects are in town for the gathering.

Stinnet said so far the number of cases she's seeing is comparable to what she's seen with other large summer groups.

"With any large group — rodeos, firefighters — you get social activities, you get drinking and partying," she said.

Stinnet said she's set aside three court dates in the coming weeks to handle any incidents that stem from the Rainbow Gathering, and arranged for local attorneys who represent indigent people to be available in case they're needed.

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