The Slatest

Oregon Sues Federal Government for Grabbing Protesters in Unmarked Vehicles

Four federal law enforcement officers wearing gas masks and full-body camo with the word POLICE emblazoned on the chest, at night. Two are holding guns.
Federal law enforcement officers, deployed under the Trump administration’s new executive order to protect federal monuments and buildings, face off with protesters in Portland, Oregon, on Friday. Reuters/Nathan Howard

The mayor of Portland, Oregon, blasted the Trump administration Sunday for the way federal agents have been responding to the protests that have engulfed the city over the past weeks. “The tactics that the Trump administration are using on the streets of Portland are abhorrent,” Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, said on CNN. “People are being literally scooped off the street into unmarked vans, rental cars, apparently. They are being denied probable cause. And they are denied due process. They don’t even know who’s pulling them into the vans. The people aren’t identifying themselves. And, as far as I can see, this is completely unconstitutional.”

The mayor criticized the Trump administration’s tactics as Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum late Friday sued the Department of Homeland Security and the Marshals Service in federal court as part of an effort to obtain a court order that would prevent federal agents from arresting people in Portland. Demonstrations against systemic racism have continued nightly in Portland since police killed George Floyd on May 25. Videos from the protests have shown agents arresting protesters and putting them in unmarked SUVs. Rosenblum is seeking a temporary restraining order to “immediately stop federal authorities from unlawfully detaining Oregonians.”

Although Wheeler had been among the local officials who complained that a small group of violent demonstrators were taking attention away from the larger group of peaceful demonstrators, he is now accusing the federal agents of making the situation worse. The complaint filed by Rosenblum on Friday says unidentified federal agents have grabbed people off the street “without warning or explanation, without a warrant, and without providing any way to determine who is directing this action.” Rosenblum went on to blame the federal agents for “the current escalation of fear and violence in downtown Portland.”

The stories out of Portland recently have been reminiscent of those that come out of authoritarian governments. Mark Pettibone, for example, says he was detained by men wearing military fatigues and generic law enforcement patches as he walked home from a protest and was later put in an unmarked minivan. No one ever told him why he was detained.

On Sunday, three House committee chairs demanded that government watchdogs investigate the use of force by federal agents against protesters. “Reports from Oregon this week make clear that this misuse of resources and personnel remains a growing threat,” House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, and House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney wrote in a letter to the inspectors general of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. The Democratic lawmakers noted that the Trump administration appears “to have increasingly abused emergency authorities to justify the use of force against Americans exercising their right to peaceful assembly.”

Early Sunday, Trump pushed back against criticism by tweeting that “we are trying to help Portland, not hurt it.” He also defended his administration’s actions in Portland during an interview on Fox News Sunday. “If you look at what’s gone on in Portland, those are anarchists, and we’ve taken a very tough stand,” Trump said. “If we didn’t take a stand in Portland, you know we’ve arrested many of these leaders. If we didn’t take that stand, right now you would have a problem.”

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