ACLU files lawsuit over federal agents in Portland

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Friday filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Marshals Service after they deployed agents to quell demonstrations in Portland, Ore. 

The ACLU’s lawsuit seeks to block federal law enforcement from dispersing, arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force against journalists or legal observers. The group says the move is one of many suits it will be filing for “unconstitutional attacks” on protesters in the city.

“This is a fight to save our democracy,” Kelly Simon, interim legal director with the ACLU of Oregon, said in a statement. “Under the direction of the Trump administration, federal agents are terrorizing the community, risking lives, and brutally attacking protesters demonstrating against police brutality.

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“These federal agents must be stopped and removed from our city," Simon added. "We will continue to bring the full fire power of the ACLU to bear until this lawless policing ends.”

The plaintiffs in the case include The Portland Mercury and individual journalists and legal observers who say they were attacked by law enforcement. The lawsuit adds federal agencies to an existing complaint filed last month against local law enforcement.

“Cowardly attacks on those who report police misconduct to the world have no place in a free society,” said Matthew Borden, partner at Braun Hagey & Borden LLP.

The suit comes after reports surfaced Friday morning of federal officers in unmarked military fatigues detaining demonstrators and driving around in unmarked vehicles.

Demonstrations have continued in Portland over the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis at the end of May. Some protests have led to the damage of federal buildings, prompting the administration to send in federal officers. Some demonstrators have also tried to make their own autonomous zone similar to one that lasted for weeks in Seattle. 

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Homeland Security Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Watch live: Acting DHS chief testifies on deployment of federal agents to protests The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Key 48 hours loom as negotiators push for relief deal MORE in a statement Thursday said protesters were part of a "violent mob," though demonstrations Thursday night were reported to be mainly peaceful.

The federal response has sparked pushback from Democrats, with four Oregon lawmakers calling on the inspectors general for the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to investigate federal law enforcement’s presence and practices in Portland amid rising protests in the city.

“DHS and DOJ are engaged in acts that are horrific and outrageous in our constitutional democratic republic,” Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleySenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Hillicon Valley: NSA warns of new security threats | Teen accused of Twitter hack pleads not guilty | Experts warn of mail-in voting misinformation Merkley, Sanders introduce bill limiting corporate facial recognition MORE (D) said in a statement. “First, they are deploying paramilitary forces with no identification indicating who they are or who they work for. Second, these agents are snatching people off the street with no underlying justification. Both of these acts are profound offenses against Americans.” 

“We demand not only that these acts end, but also that they remove their forces immediately from our state,” he added. “Given the egregious nature of the violations against Oregonians, we are demanding full investigations by the Inspectors General of these departments.”