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ACLU Sues Federal Agents Deployed in Portland

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon filed the first of what it says will be many lawsuits today over the Trump administration’s use of federal law enforcement to violently quell weeks-long protests and unrest in Portland, Oregon, over the police killing of George Floyd.

The ACLU of Oregon’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, seeks a temporary restraining order against Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents and U.S. Marshals deployed to Portland from assaulting press and legal observers.

“This is a fight to save our democracy,” Kelly Simon, interim legal director with the ACLU of Oregon. “Under the direction of the Trump administration, federal agents are terrorizing the community, risking lives, and brutally attacking protesters demonstrating against police brutality. This is police escalation on top of police escalation. These federal agents must be stopped and removed from our city. We will continue to bring the full fire power of the ACLU to bear until this lawless policing ends.”

DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, who visited Portland on Thursday, says the federal law enforcement officers are protecting the city’s federal courthouse and other property from “violent anarchists.”

“The city of Portland has been under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob while local political leaders refuse to restore order to protect their city,” Wolf said in a lengthy statement issued by DHS Thursday. “Each night, lawless anarchists destroy and desecrate property, including the federal courthouse, and attack the brave law enforcement officers protecting it.” 

However, news reports and videos from the protest have raised significant civil liberties concerns. Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) reported today that federal law enforcement agents wearing camouflage uniforms—and lacking any identifying insignia—were driving around Portland in unmarked vehicles, grabbing protesters off the street and detaining them.

Last weekend, federal law enforcement officers shot a protester in the head with a non-lethal munition, fracturing his skull. The man was hospitalized and required facial reconstruction surgery.

The agents are reportedly from the U.S. Marshals Service and CBP’s BORTAC team, which the Trump administration has deployed under a June 26 executive order to protect monuments. 

Democratic Oregon state officials, including Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Gov. Kate Brown, have denounced the actions of federal law enforcement agents and demanded the Trump administration withdraw them.

“I told the acting secretary that my biggest immediate concern is the violence federal officers brought to our streets in recent days, and the life-threatening tactics his agents use,” Wheeler said. “We do not need or want their help.”

Brown called Trump’s deployment of federal agents “political theater” and a “blatant abuse of power by the federal government.”

Democratic Oregon lawmakers in Congress—Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, with Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici—also called today for the DHS Office of Inspector General to investigate what Wyden called “paramilitary assaults.”

“It’s painfully clear this administration is focused purely on escalating violence without answering my repeated requests for why this expeditionary force is in Portland and under what constitutional authority,” Wyden said in a press release. “Simply put, the Office of Inspector General must investigate Trump’s assault on Americans’ constitutional rights now.” 

The U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon, Billy Williams, a Trump appointee, has also called for an inspector general investigation into the action of the agents.

“Based on news accounts circulating that allege federal law enforcement detained two protesters without probable cause, I have requested the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General to open a separate investigation directed specifically at the actions of DHS personnel,” Williams said in a statement.

The ACLU of Oregon’s lawsuit says federal law enforcement attacked two journalists, Mathieu Lewis-Rolland and Garrison Davis, with non-lethal rounds, despite their being clearly marked as press.

“They also chased away legal observers affiliated with the National Lawyers’ Guild by threatening to beat them with batons,” the lawsuit says.

The ACLU of Oregon argues that the same court already issued an identical temporary restraining order on July 2 against the Portland Police Department.

“The federal agents are aware of the Court’s TRO, but have taken the position that they need not comply, which has once again placed press and legal observers in peril,” the lawsuit says.

CBP declined to comment on the ACLU’s lawsuit.


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