As arrests of Portland protesters by unidentified federal agents gained national attention Friday, the U.S. Attorney for Oregon announced he would request an investigation into the matter.
“Based on news accounts circulating that allege federal law enforcement detained two protestors 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 in a statement Friday.
The announcement came on the heels of statements from elected representatives in Oregon, including Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, who along with Reps. Earl Blumenhauer and Suzanne Bonamici said they would call for an investigation into “the unrequested presence and violent actions of federal forces in Portland.”
Those calls were in response to reports that a protester suffered a severe head injury after being shot in the head with an impact munition fired by a police officer Saturday, and reports that multiple protesters were pulled off the streets by unidentified federal agents in downtown Portland and swept away into unmarked vehicles Wednesday.
First reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting on Thursday, the story of the detentions has received attention from national media following a visit to Portland by the interim head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf.
Wolf on Thursday said his visit was meant to “restore order” to the city, which he claimed has been “under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob.” On Friday, he tweeted out photos of himself touring federal property in downtown Portland, highlighting graffiti and boarded up windows.
His presence received swift condemnation from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese and others, who released statements in opposition to the visit.
Brown said she told Wolf that the federal government should remove “all federal officers from our streets.”
“His response showed me he is on a mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes,” she said. “He is putting both Oregonians and local law enforcement officers in harm’s way.”
Protests in Portland were originally spurred by the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department in May, and have at times drawn thousands of people to marches and events across the city.
Some protesters have gathered nightly at the downtown Justice Center, where confrontational events have led to violent crackdowns by police, including the use of tear gas and “non-lethal” munitions.
Those tactics have also been used by federal agents in Portland, who on Thursday night once again used gas, smoke and impact munitions on boisterous but non-violent protesters, walking through city streets in an attempt to clear away crowds.
Wolf responded to news reports of Thursday’s protests by dismissing those who participated, claiming federal agents were attacked by lasers and frozen water bottles, and saying that two officers were injured.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection chief Mark Morgan said on Friday that the agency “will continue to arrest the violent criminals that are destroying federal property & injuring our agents/officers in Portland” in a statement on Twitter.
Meanwhile, protesters continued to release video footage on social media of federal agents pulling people into unmarked vans and firing rounds of smoke canisters as they marched through the streets of downtown Portland.
Those actions drew a sharp response from the American Civil Liberties Union on Friday, which wrapped recent events from Portland into a national conversation around use federal use of force against protesters.
“What is happening now in Portland should concern everyone in the United States,” Jann Carson, interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, said. “Usually when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street we call it kidnapping. The actions of the militarized federal officers are flat-out unconstitutional and will not go unanswered.”
U.S. District Judge Michael Simon on Friday granted the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon’s request to add the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Marshals Service to a temporary restraining order preventing police from dispersing, arresting or targeting journalists or legal observers at protests.
The agency said Friday it would file a revised motion that includes those federal agencies.
The organization filed the original request for the injunction on behalf of the Portland Mercury, as well as several independent journalists and legal observers.
The city of Portland and the ACLU of Oregon agreed to a preliminary injunction that extends to Oct. 30. Under that injunction, police may not disperse or arrest journalists and legal observers and they can’t unlawfully seize photographic equipment, recording equipment or press passes from journalists and legal observers, or order journalists or legal observers to stop photographing, recording, or observing a protest.
Noelle Crombie contributed to this report.
By Jamie Hale, oregonlive.com