PORTLAND, Ore. — Two protest groups are suing federal law enforcement agencies over their response to demonstrations in support of Black Lives Matter in downtown Portland.
The suit, filed Monday by Wall of Moms, Don’t Shoot Portland and a number of individuals, alleges that federal agents have used violence to “stamp out peaceful and constitutionally protected protests” and that their mere presence as a federal domestic security force is unconstitutional.
This month, President Donald Trump sent federal agents to Portland as protests continue after the death of George Floyd in police custody.
The suit alleges that federal agents — some of whom “are not trained to police mass protests protected by the first amendment” — have been used to quell demonstrations and “betray a foundational principle of American Democracy.”
The US Marshals Service, US Department of Justice, Federal Protective Service, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, US Customs and Border Protection and US Department of Homeland Security are among the defendants listed in the lawsuit that claims more than 100 agents were sent to the city under “a policy to intimidate and deter protesters because of their views and beliefs.”
CNN has reached out to the Department of Homeland Security, which the Federal Protective Service is under, and the US Marshals Service for response.
Wall of Moms, Don’t Shoot Portland and other protesters have been subject to tear-gassing, unlawful arrests without probable cause and shootings with rubber bullets and bean bags at close range by DHS agents donning military fatigues and gear, repeatedly resulting in injury, the lawsuit said. The tear gas has left some vomiting and unable to eat or sleep, according to the suit.
“They have been forced to speak and assemble in fear of not just bodily harm, but the possibility of sudden arrest without probable cause,” the suit said.
Portland mayor demands ‘cease-fire’
Videos have emerged showing authorities without identification badges in unmarked vehicles arresting protesters in Portland. These incidents have sparked the state’s US attorney to call for an investigation into the matter.
Federal involvement in protest response has not been welcomed by local leaders.
In a Monday night tweet, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler called for an immediate meeting with DHS leadership “to discuss a cease-fire and the removal of heightened federal forces.”
Last week, a unanimous Portland City Council voted to end cooperation between the Portland Police Bureau and federal agencies.
Wheeler has come under intense scrutiny by Trump and acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf after weeks of protests in his city.
Ahead of the July Fourth weekend, the Trump administration dispatched teams of federal agents to the city — the President said the effort was to protect federal property but protesters say the action itself has fueled the public’s outrage.
For several nights, largely peaceful protests demanding racial justice and an end to an influx in federal resources in the city, have turned violent as a small subset of rioters have set fires and launched fireworks at the city’s downtown federal courthouse. The issue has led Portland city officials and members of the Trump administration to engage in a public war of words over who is to blame for the actions of rioters.
Wheeler was asked whether he is in contact with the acting DHS secretary Wednesday.
“I have no reason to reach him,” Wheeler said at the time. “My demands are clear. I want them to leave.”
But Acting Secretary for Homeland Security Chad Wolf told Fox News that he blames city leadership for fostering an environment that allows criminals to be untouched.
“They’re coming armed with rocks, bottles, baseball bats, power tools, commercial grade fireworks, eliciting that violence and targeting their violence on federal courthouses and federal law enforcement officers,” Wolf said of Portland.
“I offered DHS support to help locally address the situation that’s going on in Portland, and their only response was: please pack up and go home,” Wolf said in an interview with Fox News. “That’s just not going to happen on my watch.”
Federal officers make 22 arrests since Thursday
The US Attorney’s Office says officers protecting the federal courthouse in Portland “have been subjected to nightly threats and assaults from demonstrators while performing their duties.”
Crowds of several hundred people gathered outside the federal courthouse Sunday and “spent hours yelling, chanting, banging on the fence and throwing objects over it,” according to a statement released by the Portland Police Bureau early Monday morning.
Federal officers have arrested 22 people in Portland since Thursday night, according to a press release for the Department of Justice.
Most of the people arrested have been charged with assaulting a federal officer, but one suspect is accused of illegal operation of a drone. Another is accused of “stalking federal employees” by allegedly doxing members of the Federal Protective Service, which involves researching and publicly broadcasting private information of an individual.
Many protesters and local leaders have said that the presence of federal forces in the city have heightened tensions between protesters and law enforcement.