Jul 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

U.S. attorney calls for investigation into federal officers arresting Portland protestors

Federal officers in Portland on July 17.
Federal officers in Portland on July 17. Photo: Mason Trinca/Getty Images

U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon Billy Williams called for an inspector general investigation on Friday into actions of Department of Homeland Security officers in unmarked vehicles who detained Portland protesters without explanation, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) reports.

Why it matters: Officers from the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group and U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently sent to Portland by the Trump administration have escalated tensions between protesters and law enforcement over the past two weeks.

An officer with U.S. Marshals Service fired a less-lethal round at a protester’s head on July 11, critically injuring him, the New York Times reports.

  • Multiple videos first reported by OPB show federal officers in camouflaged military uniforms arresting protesters and pulling them into unmarked vans.

What they're saying: “Based on news accounts circulating that allege federal law enforcement detained two protesters 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 said, per OPB.

  • Four Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Acting Secretary Homeland Security Chad Wolf and U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr on Friday demanding that the Trump administration reverse the deployment of federal officers in Portland.
  • Oregon Gov. Kate Brown called the Trump administration's deployment of federal officers to the city "a blatant abuse of power by the federal government" on Twitter Thursday.

Customs and Border Protection released a Friday statement about one incident caught on video, saying agents approached an individual suspected of assaulting federal agents or causing destruction to federal property, but "a large and violent mob moved towards their location" so they shifted to a safer location.

  • "The CBP agents identified themselves and were wearing CBP insignia during the encounter. The names of the agents were not displayed due to recent doxing incidents against law enforcement personnel who serve and protect our country."
  • Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security, said that federal agents did use unmarked cars to pick people up, but noted the practice was aimed at keeping officers safe and away from crowds and to move detainees to a "safe location for questioning," per NPR's All Things Considered on Friday.

The big picture: Federal officers have charged at least 13 people with crimes associated with the protests. Others have been arrested and released, per NPR.

  • The American Civil Liberties Union added the Department of Homeland Security and the Marshals Service as defendants in its ongoing lawsuit that seeks to stop the Portland police from assaulting news reporters, photographers, legal observers, and other neutrals who are documenting law enforcement's violent response to protests.

Wolf visited Portland on Thursday and blamed state and city authorities for failing to end 47 days of protests over police brutality and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, according to AP.

  • Wolf's visit came hours after issuing a statement in which he called protesters “violent anarchists” and a “violent mob" for threatening to damage public buildings, including a federal court building in the city.
  • “Each night, lawless anarchists destroy and desecrate property, including the federal courthouse, and attack the brave law enforcement officers protecting it,” Wolf wrote, per AP.
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