(Update: Oregon AG to sue feds over detentions, begins criminal investigation)
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The mayor of Portland demanded Friday that President Donald Trump remove militarized federal agents he deployed to the city after some detained people on streets far from federal property they were sent to protect.
“Keep your troops in your own buildings, or have them leave our city,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said at a news conference.
Democratic Gov. Kate Brown said Trump is looking for a confrontation in the hopes of winning political points elsewhere. It also serves as a distraction from the coronavirus pandemic, which is causing spiking numbers of infections in Oregon and the nation.
Brown’s spokesman, Charles Boyle, said Friday that arresting people without probable cause is “extraordinarily concerning and a violation of their civil liberties and constitutional rights.”
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said she would file a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Marshals Service, Customs and Border Protection and Federal Protection Service alleging they have violated the civil rights of Oregonians by detaining them without probable cause. She will also seek a temporary restraining order against them.
The ACLU of Oregon said the federal agents appear to be violating citizens’ rights, which “should concern everyone in the United States.”
“Usually when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street we call it kidnapping,” said Jann Carson, interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. “The actions of the militarized federal officers are flat-out unconstitutional and will not go unanswered.”
Federal officers have charged at least 13 people with crimes related to the protests so far, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported Thursday. Some have been detained by the federal courthouse, which has been the scene of protests. But others were grabbed blocks away.
“This is part of the core media strategy out of Trump’s White House: to use federal troops to bolster his sagging polling data,” Wheeler said. “And it is an absolute abuse of federal law enforcement officials.”
One video showed two people in helmets and green camouflage with “police” patches grabbing a person on the sidewalk, handcuffing them and taking them into an unmarked vehicle.
“Who are you?” someone asks the pair, who do not respond. At least some of the federal officers belong to the Department of Homeland Security.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement that its agents had information indicating the person in the video was suspected of assaulting federal agents or destroying federal property.
“Once CBP agents approached the suspect, a large and violent mob moved towards their location. For everyone’s safety, CBP agents quickly moved the suspect to a safer location,” the agency said. However, the video shows no mob.
In another case, Mark Pettibone, 29, said a minivan rolled up to him around 2 a.m. Wednesday and four or five people got out “looking like they were deployed to a Middle Eastern war.”
Pettibone told The Associated Press he got to his knees as the group approached. They dragged him into the van without identifying themselves or responding to his questions and pulled his beanie over his eyes so he couldn’t see, he said.
“I figured I was just going to disappear for an indefinite amount of time,” Pettibone said.
Pettibone said he was put into a cell and officers dumped the contents of his backpack, with one remarking: “Oh, this is a bunch of nothing.”
After he asked for a lawyer, Pettibone was allowed to leave.
“Authoritarian governments, not democratic republics, send unmarked authorities after protesters,” Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley said in a tweet.
U.S. Attorney Billy Williams in Portland said Friday he has requested the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General investigate the actions of DHS personnel.
In a letter Friday, Oregon’s two senators and two of its House members demanded that U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf immediately withdraw “these federal paramilitary forces from our state.”
The members of Congress also said they’ll be asking the DHS inspector general as well as the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate “the unrequested presence and violent actions of federal forces in Portland.”
“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,” Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden said.
On Thursday night, federal officers deployed tear gas and fired non-lethal rounds into a crowd of protesters.
Wolf visited Portland on Thursday and called the demonstrators, who are protesting racism and police brutality, “violent anarchists.”
Wolf blamed state and city authorities for not putting an end to the protests. But Portland police said Friday they wound up arresting 20 people overnight.
At least two protests occurred Thursday night, one near the federal courthouse and the other by a police station in another part of the city. Police told protesters to leave that site after announcing they heard some chanting about burning down the building. Protester Paul Frazier said Friday the chant was “much more rhetorical than an actual statement.”
Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell told reporters Friday that his officers are in contact with the federal agents, but that neither controls the others’ actions.
“We do communicate with federal officers for the purpose of situational awareness and deconfliction,” Lovell said. “We’re operating in a very, very close proximity to one another ... so it’s important for us to know if they’re going to take some type of action and it’s important for them to know if we’re going to take some type of action.”
The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon on Friday added the federal government to a lawsuit it filed earlier to halt the use of crowd control measures, including tear gas and rubber bullets, against journalists and legal observers at protests in Portland.
“The lawsuit is one of many the ACLU will be filing against federal authorities in Portland for their unconstitutional attacks on people protesting the police killing of George Floyd,” the group said.
Tensions have escalated in the past two weeks, particularly after an officer with the U.S. Marshals Service fired a less-lethal round at a protester’s head on July 11, critically injuring him.
The protests following the police killing of Floyd in Minneapolis have often devolved into violent clashes between smaller groups and the police. The unrest has caused deep divisions in a city that prides itself on its activism and progressive reputation.
MERKLEY, WYDEN, BLUMENAUER, BONAMICI DEMAND FEDERAL FORCES BE REMOVED FROM PORTLAND
Letter blasts the administration for using force and intimidation to try to bolster the president’s re-election campaign
Friday, July 17, 2020
PORTLAND, OR – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, with U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici, today blasted federal agencies’ politically-motivated “authoritarian tactics” and demanded that U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf immediately remove their special forces from Oregon.
“These tactics include deploying federal agents without identifying insignia in an apparent effort to evade transparency and accountability, snatching people off the street with no apparent reason for apprehension, and using potentially deadly munitions to harm peaceful protesters. These actions are out of control,” the delegation wrote. “They are more reflective of tactics of a government led by a dictator, not from the government of our constitutional democratic republic.”
The letter continues: “These tactics, coupled with the violent nature of the federal agents’ crowd control tactics resulting in a peaceful demonstrator being shot in the face on July 11, 2020 by a member of the U.S Marshals Service Special Operating Group (SOG), seem calculated to provoke further conflict, a conclusion reinforced by the President’s efforts to make a political issue out of developments in Portland. The message crafted by the Trump administration to justify this escalation of force and intimidation in Portland borders on propaganda, apparently to serve the President’s perceived political interests. This is unacceptable under our Constitution. There are undoubtedly dangerous acts being committed by a small number of individuals. Yet a Department of Homeland Security press release refers to ‘violent anarchists’ 72 times while describing graffiti. Meanwhile, the President’s re-election campaign is running ads warning of ‘lawlessness’ and ‘radical left-wing mobs.’”
The letter points out that the lawmakers also emphasized that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have refused to provide any answers to even the most fundamental questions.
“These actions represent a complete abuse of power, and we demand that you remove any SOG, [U.S. Customs and Border Protection Tactical Unit (BORTAC)], Homeland Security Investigations Special Response Team (HSI SRT) agents or other federal agents recently deployed to Oregon immediately,” they wrote. “We will not tolerate the use of Oregonians as props in President Trump’s campaign-motivated abuse of power.”
Also today, the delegation announced that it would be formally requesting that the offices of Inspector General for DOJ and for DHS open investigations into the unrequested presence and violent actions of federal forces in Portland.
Find the full letter below and here.
July 17, 2020
The Honorable William Barr
U.S. Department of Justice
Washington, D.C. 20530
The Honorable Chad Wolf
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528
Attorney General Barr and Acting Secretary Wolf:
We write today to express our alarm about the authoritarian tactics employed in the streets of Portland by the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security.
These tactics include deploying federal agents without identifying insignia in an apparent effort to evade transparency and accountability, snatching people off the street with no apparent reason for apprehension, and using potentially deadly munitions to harm peaceful protesters. These actions are out of control. They are more reflective of tactics of a government led by a dictator, not from the government of our constitutional democratic republic.
Not only must these egregious tactics end immediately, we demand that you remove these federal paramilitary forces from our state. The country has watched recent videos of agents wearing camouflage and body armor, without insignia or other identification, apparently from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Tactical Unit (BORTAC), apprehending civilians by putting them into unmarked cars. Furthermore, the fact that neither the public, nor local leaders, nor federal representatives for the people of Oregon know who these agents are despite direct inquiries from us and others speaks to the intentional obfuscation of their roles. Federal agents deployed in American cities must wear identifying insignia for public accountability of these grievous acts.
These actions are chillingly reminiscent of autocratic governments that “disappear” critics and opponents. Federal agents only have the authority to make arrests if they have probable cause that a person has violated a federal law. In at least some of these instances, these anonymous law enforcement officers appear to be indiscriminately arresting anyone in downtown Portland who they perceive to be associated with protests, searching them, and then releasing or charging them depending on what they find. Proximity and dress do not constitute probable cause.
We appreciate the responsibility to protect federal personnel and property, but these tactics, coupled with the violent nature of the federal agents’ crowd control tactics resulting in a peaceful demonstrator being shot in the face on July 11, 2020 by a member of the U.S Marshals Service Special Operating Group (SOG), seem calculated to provoke further conflict, a conclusion reinforced by the President’s efforts to make a political issue out of developments in Portland. The message crafted by the Trump administration to justify this escalation of force and intimidation in Portland borders on propaganda, apparently to serve the President’s perceived political interests. This is unacceptable under our Constitution. There are undoubtedly dangerous acts being committed by a small number of individuals. Yet a Department of Homeland Security press release refers to “violent anarchists” 72 times while describing graffiti. Meanwhile, the President’s re-election campaign is running ads warning of “lawlessness” and “radical left-wing mobs.”
The American people deserve to know who is giving orders for the disappearance-style arrests or detentions, as well as who has operational command and what the rules of engagement are for federal officers operating in Portland. We live in a democratic republic, not an authoritarian police state and we cannot allow our cities to become occupied zones. The President is working hard to portray himself as a “law and order” figure, but only seems interested in the “order” part of that phrase. You and your agencies work for the people of Oregon and other Americans and you are answerable to them.
These actions represent a complete abuse of power, and we demand that you remove any SOG, BORTAC, Homeland Security Investigations Special Response Team (HSI SRT) agents or other federal agents recently deployed to Oregon immediately. Some of us have already written to you requesting information about your training, tactics, and chain of command, and we reiterate our requests for you to provide that information immediately. We will not tolerate the use of Oregonians as props in President Trump’s campaign-motivated abuse of power.
U.S. ATTORNEY STATEMENT ON FEDERAL LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITY IN PORTLAND
PORTLAND, Ore.—U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams released the following statement today on federal law enforcement’s response to ongoing protests in Portland:
“The overarching goal of law enforcement is public protection and, during tense and dangerous situations, de-escalation. Federal law enforcement officers protecting the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse and other federal buildings have been operating with those two critical goals. Night after night for the past 50 nights, they have protected the federal courthouse from incursion and fire. They have rebuffed efforts to enter the building by force and have been met with an onslaught of commercial fireworks, laser strikes, glass, mortars, paint, and anything else near at hand. They have endeavored to find the individuals within the crowd who are committing these violent acts and arrest them in a manner that is safe for both the officers and nearby non-violent protesters.
In limited instances, their conduct has been questioned and the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General appropriately opened an investigation into the use of less lethal ammunition directed at a protestor last week.
Based on news accounts circulating that allege federal law enforcement detained two protestors 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.
As U.S. Attorney, I will continue to work in concert with local and federal law enforcement and city and community leaders to bring about an end to this violence.”
Attorney General Rosenblum Files Lawsuit Against U. S. Homeland Security; Announces Criminal Investigation
Salem, Oregon—Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum this evening will file a lawsuit in federal court against the United States Department of Homeland Security, the United States Marshals Service, the United States Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Protection Service and their agents alleging they have engaged in unlawful law enforcement in violation of the civil rights of Oregonians by seizing and detaining them without probable cause.
The lawsuit will be followed by a motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO) regarding the forcible detainment of an Oregon resident, Mark Pettibone. If granted, the TRO would immediately stop federal authorities from unlawfully detaining Oregonians. Rosenblum’s actions come in response to two disturbing incidents that occurred this week. Both involved federal authorities overstepping their powers and injuring or threatening peaceful protesters on the streets of Downtown Portland.
The first of these took place on July 12, 2020, when a peaceful protester was standing near the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse. The protester was hit in the head with an “impact weapon” and suffered severe injuries. The second occurred July 16, 2020, also in downtown Portland, when an unmarked minivan with undercover federal agents wearing generic green military fatigues forcibly detained Pettibone, who was walking on a sidewalk. Pettibone was later held at the Federal Courthouse, and eventually was let go.
The Oregon Department of Justice Criminal Justice Division has also opened an investigation into the July 12 incident. It is joined in this criminal investigation by Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill.
Statement from Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum:
“I share the concerns of our state and local leaders – and our Oregon U.S. Senators and certain Congressional representatives – that the current escalation of fear and violence in downtown Portland is being driven by federal law enforcement tactics that are entirely unnecessary and out of character with the Oregon way. These tactics must stop. They not only make it impossible for people to assert their First Amendment rights to protest peacefully. They also create a more volatile situation on our streets. We are today asking the federal court to stop the federal police from secretly stopping and forcibly grabbing Oregonians off our streets, and we are announcing a state criminal investigation, with the Multnomah County District Attorney, into the incident resulting in serious injuries to a peaceful protester — apparently committed by a federal police officer in downtown Portland last week.
“The federal administration has chosen Portland to use their scare tactics to stop our residents from protesting police brutality and from supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Every American should be repulsed when they see this happening. If this can happen here in Portland, it can happen anywhere.”