WASHINGTON — Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum sued the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies Friday night, alleging that federal law enforcement officers sent to Portland to suppress the Black Lives Matter protests violated the Constitution by unlawfully detaining and arresting demonstrators without probable cause.
In the lawsuit, Rosenblum asked for a restraining order to prevent agents with Homeland Security, U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Federal Protection Service from making any further arrests.
The lawsuit states that federal officers “have been using unmarked vehicles to drive around downtown Portland, detain protesters, and place them into the officers’ unmarked vehicles, removing them from public without either arresting them or stating the basis for an arrest, since at least Tuesday, July 14.”
“The identity of the officers is not known, nor is their agency affiliation, according to videos and reports that the officers in question wear military fatigues with patches simply reading ‘POLICE,’ with no other identifying information,” the lawsuit continues.
The lawsuit claims that such actions compel citizens who are “reasonably afraid of being picked up and shoved into unmarked vans — possibly by federal officers, possibly by individuals opposed to the protests” from exercising their First Amendment right to assembly.
The suit also claims that law enforcement violated the Fourth and Fifth Amendment by seizing people without a warrant and denying them due process of law.
Protesters have flooded the streets of Portland nightly in the two months since the killing of George Floyd, a Black man whose death while in custody in Minneapolis triggered global demonstrations against police brutality and systemic racism.
Tensions spiked in recent days after President Donald Trump announced he would send federal law enforcement personnel to Portland because “the locals couldn’t handle it,” as part of his ongoing promise to “dominate” protesters.
Since then, videos on social media have shown the frenzy across parts of the city, with federal officers in camouflage aiming their weapons and using smoke to press protesters back. Videos from recent nights have also shown those officers using unmarked vehicles to detain people off the street. Some were seen rushing into crowds and striking people with batons.
“Ordinarily, a person exercising his right to walk through the streets of Portland who is confronted by anonymous men in military-type fatigues and ordered into an unmarked van can reasonably assume that he is being kidnapped and is the victim of a crime,” Rosenblum’s lawsuit states.
Acting Director of Homeland Security Chad Wolf visited Portland on Thursday and called the demonstrators “violent anarchists.”
“Our men and women in uniform are patriots. We will never surrender to violent extremists on my watch,” Wolf tweeted.
Rosenblum and other Oregon officials have said that the the deployment of federal officers in Portland has inflamed tensions. Democratic members of Oregon’s congressional delegation said Friday they will demand a federal investigation into the deployment of the federal officers.
“DHS and DOJ are engaged in acts that are horrific and outrageous in our constitutional democratic republic,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said in a statement Friday.
“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,” Merkley continued, demanding that the officers be removed.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler had a similar message at a news conference Friday.
“We were seeing things calm down but the intervention of federal officers reignited tensions,” he said. “Do us a favor keep your troops in their own buildings, or have them leave our city.”
Andrew Blankstein contributed.