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Oregon AG Presses For Immediate Restraining Order Against Federal Officers

Federal law enforcement officers, along with PPB, dispersed hundreds of protesters from the Multnomah County Justice Center and federal courthouse on the 4th of July during protests against systemic racism and police violence.
Jonathan Levinson
/
OPB
Federal law enforcement officers, along with PPB, dispersed hundreds of protesters from the Multnomah County Justice Center and federal courthouse on the 4th of July during protests against systemic racism and police violence.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum is asking for a temporary restraining order to stop federal officers from anonymously detaining protesters on Portland streets.

The State of Oregon is pressing a judge to immediately stop federal officers from anonymously snatching Portland protesters off city streets, arguing those actions are illegal and could increase protesters’ chances of being kidnapped by non-federal entities.

As a lawsuit demanding an end to the highly controversial tactics plays out, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum filed a motion for a temporary restraining order Monday. If a federal judge agrees, federal authorities could be immediately hamstrung in enforcing a directive that President Trump has indicated he may expand to other cities.

“The Attorney General of Oregon now asks the federal courts to answer whether the United States Constitution permits federal law enforcement to snatch people in the middle of the night without identifying themselves or explaining the legal basis for their actions,” the motion reads. “She submits that the answer is no ..."

The request is the latest step in a battle between state and federal powers that has escalated since early July when federal law enforcement officers began taking an active role in policing protests for racial justice that have played out nightly for weeks.

As the outcry over the tactics of federal officers grew last week, Rosenblum filed suit against four federal agencies: The Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Federal Protective Service.

All of those agencies have had a hand in stepped-up enforcement connected to the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse in downtown Portland. Their presence is linked to an executive order that Trump signed on June 26, dealing with protecting federal property.

Rosenblum’s motion relies in large part on the story of Mark Pettibone, a Portland protester who OPB first reported was pursued by federal officers in fatigues as he walked home in the early hours of July 15.

Pettibone has described being hauled into an unmarked van with no explanation for why he was being detained or who his captors were. His beanie was pulled over his face, obscuring his view as he was taken to a building he later discovered was the federal courthouse.

In an affidavit filed with the lawsuit, Pettibone wrote: “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. I sank to my knees and put my hands in the air.”

Since OPB reported the arrest on Thursday, it has sparked international media attention and been excoriated by public officials at every level of government.

Rosenblum says that other such instances have occurred. But while the motion refers to one video that shows an arrest very similar to what Pettibone described and appears to have originated in Portland in the same time period, it also links to a video that has circulated online since early June, and which past news reports have said occurred in San Diego.

City police officers in that video haul a woman away in an unmarked car as onlookers scream questions. They are not dressed in fatigues as federal authorities in Portland have been. A decidedly non-Portland skyline looms in the background.

“The identity of the woman is not known to the Attorney General,” the motion says. “The Attorney General must assume the Defendants were responsible, based on the similarity of the tactics in that second video to those in the first, as well as to Mr. Pettibone’s report of his seizure and detention. Without the ‘POLICE’ marking on the assailants’ vests, the video would appear to be of an armed kidnapping.”

Rosenblum believes the federal tactics used in Portland are unconstitutional, infringing on demonstrators’ right to free speech and protections against unreasonable search and seizure. To that end, the attorney general’s office also filed affidavits from people who say they are too intimidated by the federal tactics to participate in protests.

Rosenblum also argues the federal arrests “open the door to the risk of outright kidnapping of protesters by private citizens, as word spreads that genuine law enforcement agents are engaged in such tactics.”

The motion requests that a judge immediately block federal officers from “detaining, arresting, or holding individuals without probable cause or a warrant,” and require that officers identify themselves and explain why they are arresting or detaining a person before doing so.

Those requests are similar to requirements being floated in a bill that much of Oregon’s Congressional delegation put forward on Monday.

A hearing date for the motion did not appear to have been set Thursday night. U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman, an appointee of President George W. Bush, has been assigned the case.

Dirk VanderHart is JPR's Salem correspondent reporting from the Oregon State Capitol. His reporting is funded through a collaboration between public radio stations around the Northwest called the Northwest News Network.