Portland police declared the latest clashes a “riot” but protesters say it’s been largely peaceful.
A group of Portland, Oregon, protesters is suing the Trump administration, alleging that the actions of federal agents in the city violated their constitutional rights, went beyond legal authority and were directed by someone not formally confirmed in their role.
The nonprofit Protect Democracy filed the federal lawsuit in Washington, D.C., on behalf of individual protesters and the groups Don’t Shoot Portland and Wall of Moms.
In the lawsuit, the protesters say federal agents have unlawfully sought to “quell” the protests in Portland by firing tear gas, bean bags, pepper spray, rubber bullets, flash grenades and other less lethal munitions on peaceful protesters.
The agents’ mission has gone beyond their legal authority to protect federal property, the lawsuit alleges, saying they have engaged in unlawful arrests, used excessive force and restricted free speech.
The lawsuit also seeks that the court rule that orders by Chad Wolf, acting secretary of Homeland Security, are void because he is “not legally serving in this role” as an unconfirmed acting secretary.
“The intent of the administration’s deployment of federal agents in Portland appears to be to stifle speech the president doesn’t like. It’s important to check this unlawful administration policy now, before it is allowed to spread to other cities across the U.S.,” Deana El-Mallawany, an attorney for Protect Democracy, said in a statement.
‘Somebody’s going to die’: Portland mayor tear-gassed by federal officers
Since the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died in May as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck, Portland has seen nightly protests against police brutality and racial injustice.
President Donald Trump has said he ordered federal agents into the city to halt the unrest. He has described the protesters as “anarchists” and “agitators.”
“These are attacks on federal officers protecting fed property,” acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli tweeted Monday. “Anyone who tells you otherwise is willfully ignoring the facts or lying.”
In recent weeks, confrontations between protesters and federal officers have escalated and largely centered on the federal courthouse.
While some protesters have lit fireworks or thrown objects over fencing at the courthouse, many others have gathered peacefully, repeating chants and marching through the streets.
Federal agents have fired tear gas and pepper spray at the protesters, and in response, protesters have formed “walls of moms,” a group of women who have stood on the front lines to protect others, or donned orange and carried leaf blowers to help disperse tear gas.
“It’s not a bunch of anarchists on the front lines … It’s not nearly as out of control as people think,” Tai Carpenter, board president of Don’t Shoot Portland, told USA TODAY in Portland last week.
The lawsuit says Trump has tried to create a federal domestic police force — which the Constitution does not permit, the lawsuit says — and that his plans to send federal agents to other U.S. cities are not about protecting federal property.
In Portland, like many other liberal cities where Trump has said he’ll send agents, local officials have denounced the federal presence and argued it has only further inflamed tensions.
Local officials have also sought relief in the courts to try to hinder the federal response. The state attorney general also sued the federal government, but U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman ruled Friday that the state lacked standing to sue on behalf of protesters.
U.S. District Judge Michael Simon has ruled that federal agents cannot target or disperse journalists and legal observers, after a lawsuit on their behalf. A lawsuit has also been filed on behalf of medics who have treated injured protesters.
Local police’s use of tear gas and other munitions have also previously been limited by federal judges in Portland, Denver and Seattle.
Teressa Raiford, a plaintiff in the case and founder of Don’t Shoot Portland, said in a statement that police in Portland have long been violent toward protesters and the presence of federal agents has only exacerbated the situation.
“What we’re doing with this lawsuit is protecting the fundamental right to protest, which defines a democracy, so that we can continue to defend Black lives against state-sanctioned violence,” Raiford said. “Hopefully, it inspires others to do the same.”
Contributing: Trevor Hughes and The Associated Press
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