U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams on Friday called for an investigation into reports that unidentified federal agents donning camouflage fatigues and masks have been arresting protesters in Portland.
“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,” Williams wrote in a statement obtained by the ABC-affiliated television station, KATU News.
While requesting the investigation, the U.S. attorney for Oregon also appeared to defend law enforcement officers that he said have “rebuffed” efforts to enter a U.S. Courthouse by force. He said that some law enforcement “have been met with an onslaught of commercial fireworks, laser strikes, glass, mortars, paint, and anything else near at hand.” He added that officers have made efforts to locate perpetrators of violence in recent protests and “arrest them in a manner that is safe for both the officers and nearby non-violent protesters.”
The DHS personnel mentioned by Williams for investigation have been captured in video footage grabbing and arresting protesters and detaining them in unmarked vehicles.
KATU News said it had confirmed a report that U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents took at least one protester into custody, claiming that the detained person was suspected of assaulting federal officers or damaging federal property. According to the local news station, CBP agents said they took the suspect to another location for “further questioning” citing safety issues amid the protests which have intensified as federal agents clash with demonstrators who have carried a torch for racial justice since the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in late May.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown (D) and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler (D) have both demanded that federal agents be removed from Portland’s streets.
On Thursday, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley (D) had tweeted a video that appeared to capture two camouflaged people in masks with generic “police” patches detaining a person in an unmarked van before driving away, saying that “authoritarian governments, not democratic republics, send unmarked authorities after protesters.”
On Friday, Merkley issued a letter to Attorney General William Barr and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf together with a group of Oregon state and local officials. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden (D) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D) and Suzanne Bonamici (D) joined Merkley in calling the actions of federal agents in the Portland protests “out of control” and “an abuse of power.”
The lawmakers rebuked the deployment of federal agents without identifying insignia which they called an effort to “evade transparency and accountability.” The letter also condemned tactics of “snatching people off the street with no apparent reason” and the use of “potentially deadly munitions to harm peaceful protesters.”
I joined @SenJeffMerkley, @ronwyden, & @repblumenauer in demanding answers and calling for the immediate removal of the federal agents who have recently been deployed to Oregon. This abuse of power by the Trump Administration must end before more people are hurt or traumatized. pic.twitter.com/by80VWyAND
— Suzanne Bonamici (@RepBonamici) July 18, 2020
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