ACLU Files Lawsuit To Block Attacks By Federal Agents In Portland Protests

July 18, 2020 11:50 a.m.

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon on Friday filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Marshals Service after they deployed agents to quell racial justice protests that have continued unabated since the police killing of George Floyd in May. 

The lawsuit seeks to block federal law enforcement from dispersing, arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force against journalists or legal observers. It is one of many lawsuits that the ACLU said it will be filing against federal authorities in Portland for “unconstitutional attacks” on demonstrators. 

In a statement issued Friday, interim legal director for the ACLU of Oregon Kelly Simon, called for the removal of federal agents from the Oregon city. 

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“Under the direction of the Trump administration, federal agents are terrorizing the community, risking lives, and brutally attacking protesters demonstrating against police brutality,” Simon said, adding, “We will continue to bring the full fire power of the ACLU to bear until this lawless policing ends.”

The suit comes after reports surfaced in The Oregonian Friday that unidentified officers in unmarked military fatigues were driving around in unmarked vehicles and detaining demonstrators.

Named plaintiffs in the case include The Portland Mercury and individual journalists and legal observers who say they were attacked by law enforcement, among them Matthew Lewis-Rolland, a freelance photographer who federal agents allegedly shot 10 times in the back on Sunday. Others, including freelance journalist Justin Yau, who described accounts of alleged attacks with tear gas by federal agents.  Both Lewis-Rolland and Yau were wearing high-visibility shirts that said “PRESS” at the time of their alleged attacks, the ACLU said.

The lawsuit adds federal agencies to an existing complaint filed last month against local law enforcement in which a federal judge issued an order blocking local law enforcement from dispersing, arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force against journalists or legal observers at protests until October 30. 

Oregon Governor Kate Brown (D) tweeted that the DHS descending on Portland was “political theater” that she says was instigated by President Donald Trump who she believes is “on a mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes.”  The governor called for the removal of federal  agents who she says are endangering Oregonians and local law enforcement. 

The law and order mantra trumpeted by the President is one that ACLU staff attorney Vera Eidelman calls into question, adding that the violence of federal agents in Portland amounted to “lawlessness.” 

Trump’s flexing of the brawn of federal agents appears to be apart of a campaign strategy intended to bump up his chance for re-election in November.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf issued a statement Thursday citing examples of “violent anarchists” defacing property, setting off fireworks, spraying graffiti on public buildings, failing to follow dispersal orders and assaulting officers.

On Friday, he tweeted his support Friday of “valiant” federal officers who  he said “have defended our institutions of justice against violent anarchists.” His comments follow a night marred with violent dispersal tactics that included the use of chemical irritants, smoke and impact munitions.

“We will prevail,” he said. 

Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli told NPR on Friday that the DHS intends to use the tactics seen in Portland more broadly. 

“With as much lawbreaking is going on, we’re seeking to prosecute as many people as are breaking the law as it relates to federal jurisdiction,” he said, adding,  that “this is a posture we intend to continue not just in Portland but in any of the facilities that we’re responsible for around the country.”

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