The US Attorney for the District of Oregon Friday called for an investigation into allegations that unidentified federal agents are arresting people in the city of Portland.
US Attorney Billy Williams noted that federal agents have been in the city for the past fifty nights, defending the federal courthouse and other federal buildings from protestors.
Williams had already called for an investigation earlier this week after a protestor was shot in the head with an impact munition fired by an officer of the US Marshals Service. That investigation has been turned over to the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General.
While defense of the buildings was lawful, Williams said reports had reached him of federal agents, including agents from Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), driving in unmarked vehicles and arresting at least two protestors without identifying themselves. The agents were not wearing any identifying insignia and were masked.
Williams referred to these arrests as “questionable conduct,” while Lisa Hay, Oregon’s federal public defender, said, “It’s a fundamental constitutional value that people in this country are free to walk the streets without fear of secret arrest. That circumstance raises concerns that the arrests occurred without probable cause.”
Later on Friday, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum announced that the state would file charges in federal court against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the U.S. Marshals Service, the Federal Protection Service, and CBP.
The lawsuit will allege that the agencies and their agents have violated the civil rights of Oregonians by arresting and holding them without probable cause.
In a statement, Rosenblum accused the Trump administration of using “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.”
Also on Friday, Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, and Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici, issued a joint statement in which they wrote the administration’s actions “are chillingly reminiscent of autocratic governments that “disappear” critics and opponents.”
They demanded the removal of all federal agents who have been recently deployed to Portland. Oregon Governor Kate Brown also tweeted that she had told DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf to “remove all federal officers from our streets,” but that “[h]is response showed me he is on a mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes.”
I told Acting Secretary Wolf that the federal government should remove all federal officers from our streets. His response showed me he is on a mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes. He is putting both Oregonians and local law enforcement officers in harm’s way.
— Governor Kate Brown (@OregonGovBrown) July 16, 2020
Wolf had said that removal of agents from Portland would not “happen on my watch.”
“I offered @DHSgov support to help locally address the situation that’s going on in Portland, and their only response was: please pack up and go home. That’s just not going to happen on my watch.” pic.twitter.com/BW8UdbNZ9c
— Acting Secretary Chad Wolf (@DHS_Wolf) July 17, 2020
Additionally, The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon today sued the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Marshals Service, which have deployed federal agents to Portland, Oregon.
These agents, which have been deployed over the widespread objections of local leaders and community members, have been indiscriminately using tear gas, rubber bullets, and acoustic weapons against protesters, journalists, and legal observers. Federal officers also shot a protester in the head Sunday with a rubber bullet fracturing the person’s face and skull.
Though CBP frequently uses drones to conduct border surveillance, the Minneapolis incident appeared to be the first time that they had done so in response to domestic protests.
Budd believes the DHS has undergone a “mission creep” phenomenon, wherein its mission and authorities have gradually expanded over time—a process carried out cumulatively over the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations.
“‘Mission creep’ is what CBP, Border Patrol, and ICE have been engaged in since 9/11,” Budd said. “There are all sorts of interesting powers that CBP, ICE and Border Patrol have under Title 42 pandemic law, which has been triggered with Trump’s Covid-19 national emergency declaration.
Even though he claims we should not be in pandemic lockdown, he refuses to lift the emergency declaration because this gives these agencies more authority. All of this is legal because of vague and broad authorities given to these agencies after 9/11.”