ACLU suing Trump administration over Portland protest tactics

ACLU suing Trump administration over Portland protest tactics
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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Wednesday sued the Trump administration over federal agents' conduct in response to Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, Ore., last month.

The lawsuit was filed in Oregon on behalf of military veterans and other protesters who were allegedly tear-gassed by federal agents and shot with chemical irritants and other impact munitions. It claims that federal troops illegally detained veterans as they policed protests and that they used excessive force to silence demonstrators amid the unrest.

The complaint seeks damages for injuries sustained by protesters and asks for the court to declare the administration's actions unconstitutional.

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"President TrumpDonald TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions The Memo: Left pins hopes on Nina Turner in Ohio after recent defeats Biden administration to keep Trump-era rule of turning away migrants during pandemic MORE, [acting Homeland Security Secretary] Chad WolfChad WolfCongress needs to reform the Vacancies Act to keep the business of government on stable footing Trump, on trip with GOP, slams 'sick' state of US-Mexico border Texas Democrats representing border districts slam Trump visit MORE and this administration have attempted to silence a movement that dares to realize the American dream of a nation where everyone, not just white people, can live free,” Kelly Simon, interim legal director of the ACLU of Oregon, said in a statement. “This lawsuit seeks to hold the Trump administration accountable for its dangerous and profoundly unconstitutional actions in Portland. Black lives matter.”

The lawsuit marks the latest legal complaint the civil liberties group has filed over the Trump administration's response to protests in the Oregon city.

In mid-July, the ACLU sued the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Marshals Service in an effort to block federal agents from targeting journalists or legal observers at protests.

One of the named plaintiffs in the latest lawsuit is Mark Pettibone, who claimed last month that he was apprehended by officers in military fatigues as he walked through downtown Portland. His allegation was cited in a similar lawsuit filed by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum (D) claiming that federal agencies were illegally detaining citizens.

Duston Obermeyer, a Marine Corps veteran who was part of the so-called Wall of Vets on the front lines of the protests in Portland, is also named as a plaintiff in the suit. According to the complaint, a federal officer struck Obermeyer, 42, with a baton and another shot him at point-blank range with a chemical irritant on July 18 outside the federal courthouse. The lawsuit claimed the officers' actions came after Obermeyer approached them and asked questions about their behavior during the protests.

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"People need to know what happened to me and the government needs to be held accountable so that what happened to me doesn’t happen to someone else," Pettibone said in a statement accompanying the suit.

Portland has seen daily protests since the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Clashes between law enforcement and demonstrators intensified in July after the Trump administration dispatched federal troops as part of an effort to protect federal property. 

Oregon state and local officials denounced the federal presence, claiming it was doing more harm than good. However, Wolf defended DHS's actions while testifying before Congress earlier this month. He said the agency received no assistance from local law enforcement as it defended a courthouse "besieged by attempts of arson and constant destruction."

Updated 6:28 p.m.