US Attorney Calls For Investigation Of DHS Amid Video Evidence Of Camouflaged Portland Arrests

Federal police use CS gas and pepper spray into the crowd of protestors demonstrating at the Edith Green Wendell Wyatt Federal Building in Portland, Oregon, on July 17, 2020. - Rights activists and lawmakers expresse... Federal police use CS gas and pepper spray into the crowd of protestors demonstrating at the Edith Green Wendell Wyatt Federal Building in Portland, Oregon, on July 17, 2020. - Rights activists and lawmakers expressed outrage on June 17, 2020, over reports that federal agents circulating in unmarked cars in the western US state of Oregon were grabbing and detaining protesters off the streets. (Photo by Ankur Dholakia / AFP) (Photo by ANKUR DHOLAKIA/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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July 18, 2020 1:49 p.m.

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.”

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