Records: Wren Collective behind controversial Portland protest policy

Policy that dismissed hundreds of charges against protesters instituted 18 days after Wren forwarded it to Multnomah County district attorney

PORTLAND, Oregon – The controversial policy that led to hundreds of criminal charges being dismissed against protesters in Portland, Oregon in 2020 was introduced by the district attorney there less than three weeks after he was provided a copy of it by the Wren Collective, federal court records obtained by KSAT Investigates show.

The relationship between the Austin-based criminal justice reform group and Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt is featured prominently in an ongoing federal lawsuit filed against Schmidt and other current and former Portland law enforcement officials, records show.

The 2023 suit, filed by conservative activists Joey Gibson and Russell Schultz, was dismissed by a United States district court judge last month. It is currently being appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, records show.

Wren Collective founder Jessica Brand, who is not named as a defendant in the suit, defended her working relationship with Schmidt to KSAT this week.

Her group providing policy to Schmidt closely mirrors what KSAT has uncovered about her working relationship with Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales, who has been provided policies from Brand covering subjects including diversion and bail.

Schmidt’s decision to prosecute rebuked by Oregon judge

Gibson and Schultz were charged with felony riot following a 2019 confrontation outside of a Portland bar.

The case against the two men moved forward, even after Schmidt announced a policy in August 2020 that his office would not prosecute protesters unless they were also accused of more serious crimes including deliberate property damage or threatening another person.

“Any charge of assaulting a public safety officer, or attempting to assault a public safety officer, which arises from protesting activity should be subjected to a high level of scrutiny by the issuing deputy. Consideration should be given to the chaos of a protesting environment, especially after tear gas or other less-lethal munitions have been deployed against protestors en masse,” the policy states.

An Oregon judge dismissed the charges against Gibson and Schultz in 2022. The dismissal included the judge rebuking Schmidt for prosecuting the case for so long, the Oregon newspaper the Willamette Week reported.

A tort claim notice filed by Gibson and Schultz that September named Brand and stated that she had written an email to Schmidt’s private account in June 2020, shortly before Schmidt took office, “to schedule a private call so that the substance of their communication would not be documented in writing.”

A tort claim is a notice of an impending lawsuit for damages alleged to have been caused by government officials.

Gibson and Schultz had previously filed a federal suit in 2020 against Schmidt and prosecutors in his office asking the court to provide a permanent injunction in their case because the prosecution was acting in bad faith.

A federal judge dismissed the suit in early 2021, in part, because the court ruled it did not have jurisdiction over the criminal case, according to court records and an attorney who represented Gibson and Schultz.

The two men subsequently filed a second federal suit last year against Schmidt and other Portland law enforcement officials alleging malicious prosecution and claiming they were prosecuted because their political beliefs do not align with Schmidt’s.

The suit states Schmidt decided to continue prosecuting Gibson and Schultz after taking office, despite being apprised of a lack of evidence in the case.

Like the 2022 tort claim, the suit described Brand’s relationship with Schmidt.

The suit specifically addressed Schmidt’s decision to institute a protest policy in August 2020.

The policy led to many people in Portland who faced criminal charges stemming from protests after the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer no longer facing prosecution.

Portland, like many large cities in the United States, was the scene of protests in the weeks and months after Floyd’s murder.

Protests in Portland lasted much longer than in most other U.S. cities, stretching into the fall of 2020, and at times escalated into activities officially declared riots.

“The Policy adopted by Schmidt was not created by defendant Schmidt himself, but was provided to him in substantially complete form by an out-of-state group called ‘The Wren Collective, LLC,’ a firm described on its website ( as ‘Strategic Advising for Social Change,’ serving ‘clients who want to take the bold action needed to radically transform the criminal legal system’,” the suit states.

An attorney working for Wren on August 24, 2020, Amy Weber, forwarded a draft of the protest policy to Schmidt and Brand.

Eighteen days later, on August 11, 2020, Schmidt announced the policy publicly.

An analysis by KSAT Investigates shows the two policies are nearly indistinguishable, save for stylistic changes made before it was published.

The resulting policy resulted in hundreds of charges against protesters being dismissed, The Willamette Week reported.

Schmidt did not respond to an email seeking comment for this story.

Weber, who no longer appears on Wren’s website, did not respond to a phone call or text message seeking comment for this story.

Reached for comment via email, Brand told KSAT, “Thank you for recognizing the important work we do at Wren to keep communities safe. Anyone who tells you that public officials aren’t receiving help from experts to fulfill their vision is lying to you. When it comes to public safety, for example, that help can come from the police union or an organization like Wren. I’m proud when leaders choose Wren.”

Brand had previously not responded to multiple requests for comment on her working relationship with Gonzales, who took office in 2019.

Gonzales has repeatedly said that Brand and her group provide messages and talking points to him.

A KSAT investigation last month revealed Brand had provided written criminal justice policies to Gonzales as far back as March 2019, months after Gonzales took office.

Angus Lee, an attorney who represented Gibson and Schultz, described Brand and the Wren Collective to KSAT this week as a “hidden hand here going county to county pushing these policies. And it’s being done in secret.”

Gibson and Schultz’s notice of appeal was filed earlier this week, federal court records show.

Read more reporting on the KSAT Investigates page.

About the Authors

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Erica Hernandez is an Emmy award-winning journalist with 15 years of experience in the broadcast news business. Erica has covered a wide array of stories all over Central and South Texas. She's currently the court reporter and cohost of the podcast Texas Crime Stories.

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