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Oregon Attorney General sues U.S. government for violating Portland protesters’ rights

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler says the federal agents presence in the city is “a direct threat to our democracy” and wants them to leave.

AP/Andrew Selsky

Over the past month, protesters in Portland have reportedly been detained by unidentified federal agents without probable cause. In response to the city’s unrest, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The lawsuit, which was filed on Friday (July 17), starts the beginning process of enacting a restraining order against federal agencies “from unlawfully detaining Oregonians.” Attorney General Rosenblum claims that the federal officers are violating the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights of protestors with their tactics.

Additionally, Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler are pressing for the Trump Administration to remove the federal agencies from Portland.

During an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union, Mayor Wheeler decried Donald Trump’s Sunday (July 18) morning tweet about the city. In the tweet, Trump called protestors “anarchists and agitators.” Trump also previously referred to Portland as a “warzone.”

The troops’ presence is a direct result of Trump’s executive order to protect federal buildings and statues. According to protesters and journalists on the ground, however, the detainments happened nowhere near federal buildings.

“Well, the president has a complete misunderstanding of cause and effect,” Wheeler said. “What’s happening here is, we have dozens, if not hundreds of federal troops descending upon our city. And what they’re doing is, they are sharply escalating the situation.”

According to Mayor Wheeler and Governor Brown, things had calmed down in Portland until federal agents showed up tossing demonstrators into unmarked cars and then releasing them without any understanding of why.

Wheeler is concerned that a resident or a local law enforcement officer may be “killed” by a federal agent.

As stated in the lawsuit filed by the Oregon Attorney General, there are several times where the rights of protesters were violated.

More specifically, one incident, which occurred on July 12, left a protester with injuries to the head after an agent fired a less-lethal weapon at them.

On July 16, a man, now identified as Mark Pettibone, was walking down the street when an unmarked car with undercover federal agents forced him into the vehicle. It was all captured on video and it quickly went viral on social media. Other videos on social media show federal officers aiming weapons and using smoke against protesters, as well.

In addition to the lawsuit, Rosenblum has launched a criminal investigation with the Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill. Furthermore, the Homeland Security Office of Inspector General has also launched an investigation.

“These tactics must stop,” Rosenblum said. “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.”

“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,” she added.

Despite the scrutiny, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf doubled down on the deployment of troops in Portland this week. He echoed Trump’s sentiments and claimed that the city has been “under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob while local political leaders refuse to restore order to protect their city.”

On Saturday night (July 19), members of the PNW Youth Liberation Front, who have been leading the protests, set the Portland Police Association building ablaze. The organization is ultimately calling for the abolishment of police following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis Memorial Day weekend.

Protests around the world denouncing the passivity of police brutality against Black Americans have mostly been peaceful, though. In Portland, however, there has been a movement by some to create an autonomous zone.

As demonstrations against police brutality progresses in the city, federal agents, recently deployed by Trump, fired tear gas into crowds of demonstrators at the protests. A fence, which was set up around the federal courthouse to help “de-escalate tensions” between activists and police, was dismantled by protestors hours after it was put up.

Nevertheless, Mayor Wheeler believes the Trump administration is breaking the law and hurting more than helping. He is declaring the actions of federal agents as “completely unconstitutional.”

“The tactics that the Trump administration are using on the streets of Portland are abhorrent,” he further stated. “People are being literally scooped off the street into unmarked vans, rental cars, apparently. They are being denied probable cause and they’re denied due process.”

Wheeler insists the presence of the troops has consequently made things worse and cautions appointed officials in other municipalities across the nation.

“This could happen in your city,” Wheeler warned. ”And what we’re seeing is a blatant abuse of police tactics by the federal government, by a Trump administration that’s falling in the polls. And this is a direct threat to our democracy.”

On Friday (July 17), the American Civil Liberties Union also filed a lawsuit to help protect journalists.

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