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Oregon AG sues federal agencies over Portland arrests, says tactics are similar to kidnapping

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 7/19/2020 Khrysgiana Pineda and Joel Shannon, USA TODAY
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Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has sued multiple federal agencies alleging agents in unmarked vehicles have grabbed people off Portland's streets without a warrant in recent days.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Oregon U.S. District Court, says the agents violated the civil rights of Oregon residents using unlawful tactics. It comes after federal authorities allegedly injured and threatened peaceful protesters and seeks to bar the agencies from arresting people without probable cause or a warrant.

It also asks the court to require federal agents to identify themselves and their agency before conducting an arrest and give an explanation to any person being detained for the arrest. 

Local U.S. Justice Department authorities have questioned the tactics as well.

U.S. Attorney Billy Williams in Portland said Friday he had asked the Department of Homeland Security inspector general to investigate reports that agents arrested people without probable cause.

a group of people standing around a fire: Police gather as protesters gather during a demonstration, Thursday, July 16, 2020 in Portland, Ore.  Federal officers deployed tear gas and fired less-lethal rounds into a crowd of protesters late Thursday. The actions came just hours after the head of the Department of Homeland Security called the protesters “violent anarchists.” © Beth Nakamura, AP Police gather as protesters gather during a demonstration, Thursday, July 16, 2020 in Portland, Ore. Federal officers deployed tear gas and fired less-lethal rounds into a crowd of protesters late Thursday. The actions came just hours after the head of the Department of Homeland Security called the protesters “violent anarchists.”

Meanwhile, an ACLU lawsuit filed against the Trump administration Friday is aimed at ending "lawlessness" in Portland and seeks to end attacks on journalists and legal observers at protests by the Department of Homeland Security, among other agencies.

Rosenblum's filing includes a statement from Mark Pettibone, who says he was detained early Wednesday morning while he was walking down the street after taking part in a Black Lives Matter protest.

"Without warning, men in green military fatigues and adorned with generic 'police' patches, jumped out of an unmarked minivan and approached me," the statement reads.

"I did not know whether the men were police or far-right extremists, who, in my experience, frequently don military-like outfits and harass left-leaning protesters in Portland. My first thought was to run. I made it about a half-block before I realized there would be no escape from them."


Video: Protester tells story of hiding from apparent unmarked cars with federal agents (The Washington Post)

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Rosenblum's complaint says such tactics could lead a person to reasonably believe they are being kidnapped: "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 said in a statement that fear and violence in downtown Portland is driven by federal law enforcement and that tactics need to change.

Protests in Oregon's largest city following the police killing of George Floyd have continued for weeks. The Trump administration has sent federal officers from multiple agencies to the city, and tensions escalated after an officer with the U.S. Marshals Service fired a less-lethal round at a protester’s head on July 11, critically injuring him.

Gov. Kate Brown demanded that all federal law enforcement officers be removed from Portland streets and accused DHS acting Secretary Chad Wolf of putting both Oregon's citizens and law enforcement officers in danger. 

"This political theater from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety, Brown said in a tweet. "The President is failing to lead this nation. Now he is deploying federal officers to patrol the streets of Portland in a blatant abuse of power by the federal government."

The lawsuit names the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, the Marshals Service and the Federal Protective Service as defendants. USA TODAY has reached out to each for comment. 

Contributing: The Associated Press

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