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Law and Justice

Federal Law Enforcement Agencies Deployed To Portland Protests

police in Portland Levinson OPB.jpg
Jonathan Levinson/OPB
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Federal law enforcement officers, along with Portland Police Bureau officers and Multnomah County Sheriff's deputies, used tear gas and impact munitions to disperse hundreds of protesters from downtown on the 4th of July during protests against systemic racism and police violence.

As protests continue in Portland, federal law enforcement officers and agents from outside the area have been deployed to help protect federal buildings and personnel.

UPDATE (Monday, 9:58 p.m. PT) – 

Over the weekend, federal law enforcement officers arrested seven people at protests in downtown Portland. Officers arrested one person at a protest that began Thursday and extended into early Friday morning; two others were arrested Saturday night or early Sunday; and another four were arrested between Sunday night and early Monday.

Charges range from assault on federal officers and creating a hazard on federal property, to destruction of federal government property and disorderly conduct on federal property.

At times protesters have shot fireworks at the federal courthouse. Early Friday, a firework shot at the building caused a small fire, police said.

“There have been non-Portland assets deployed,” Kevin Sonoff, spokesperson for US Attorney Billy Williams said Monday. “The primary focus has been to protect federal property and personnel.”

Sonoff said he didn’t know the exact number of additional federal personal or additional resources deployed to Portland, but he emphasized that federal law enforcement wasn’t involved in crowd control throughout downtown. 

However, during at least one incident over the weekend, federal law enforcement officers cleared Portland city streets alongside Portland police and deputies from the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, possibly bringing federal agents under a temporary restraining order limiting law enforcement's use of force. Portland police and anyone operating under their authority are subject to an order from a federal judge, which limits the use of tear gas and other crowd control devices to instances where there is risk to the safety and lives of officers or the public.

On July 4, federal law enforcement officers cleared protesters from the area around the federal courthouse and then proceeded to continue clearing streets west of the Multnomah County Justice Center alongside Portland police officers and Sheriff's Office deputies. In the process, federal officers shoved journalists out of the way.

That may have violated a temporary restraining order issued by a federal judge July 2, placing restrictions on how officers can interact with journalists and legal observers documenting the nightly protests. That order applies to “all persons acting under the direction of the Portland Police Bureau.”

Asked who controls when and how federal officers are deployed, PPB spokesperson Lt. Kristina Jones said, “PPB is the lead agency for Portland City property; the Federal agencies are primary for federal properties.”

When asked to clarify if the restraining order applies to federal officers clearing Portland city streets Jones said, “That is not for me to decide.” 

Four law enforcement agencies have been working out of the federal courthouse in downtown Portland: U.S. Marshals, which has offices in the courthouse, as well as the Federal Protective Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security Investigations, a division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Over the weekend, U.S. Marshals declined to say what kinds of crowd control devices they used. But a video posted by protesters has shown a gas or smoke-like substance, as well as other munitions.

“We continue to conduct facility and infrastructure security operations where threatened by criminal acts prohibited by federal law,” Marshals spokesperson Lynzey Donahue said in an email Saturday. “We will continue to investigate, arrest and prosecute those persons instigating or involved in riots, looting and other violence against persons and property involving the violation of federal law.

“The U.S. Marshals are responsible for the protection of the federal judiciary, and we take that responsibility very seriously.”

The federal properties in downtown Portland include the Mark. O Hatfield federal courthouse, Pioneer Courthouse, the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building, as well as Terry Shrunk Plaza.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting