Oregon Sues Homeland Security, Federal Agencies Over Portland Protester Arrests

Getty Police officers remove fencing that block the doors of the Multnomah County Justice Center during a demonstration in Portland, Oregon, on July 17, 2020.

The Oregon Department of Justice has sued a number of federal agencies, alleging that the agencies detained and arrested protesters in Portland without probable cause. The Oregon DOJ also said in its lawsuit that people with these federal agencies did not identify themselves when making the arrests. The complaint was filed against the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Marshals Services, the Federal Protective Service, and “John Does 1-10.”

Here’s what you need to know.


The Lawsuit Seeks an Injunction to Stop Any Arrests Without Warrants or Probable Cause

The lawsuit was filed on Friday night by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, Deputy Chief Trial Counsel Sheila Potter, and Chief Trial Counsel Steven Lippold, NPR reported.

You can read the full complaint here

The defendants named in the lawsuit include the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Marshals Services, and the Federal Protective Service. According to the complaint, additional defendants named “John Does 1-10” could not be identified.

The complaint notes: “John Does 1-10 are employed by the United States government in a law enforcement capacity. They have made it impossible for them to be individually identified by carrying out law enforcement actions without wearing any identifying information, even so much as the agency that employs them.”

The lawsuit is seeking to have the defendants identify themselves and their agency before detaining or arresting anyone, explain why the person is being detained or arrested, and to stop arresting people without probable cause or a warrant.

Department of Justice

The complaint alleges that actions by the federal agencies are violating First Amendment rights to gather and express themselves peacefully, Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable seizures (particularly without a warrant), and Fifth Amendment protections of life, liberty, and property.

The complaint lists several constitutional violations, including:

Defendants’ actions are undertaken with the intent of discouraging lawful protest and therefore constitute an illegal prior restraint on the First Amendment right of Oregonians to peacefully protest racial inequality. 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—will feel compelled to stay away, for their own personal safety, and will therefore be unable to express themselves in the way that they have the right to do…

…Defendants did not have a warrant to seize Pettibone or the other citizens who have been detained, and will continue to seize individuals off the street without a warrant, in the absence of an injunction, and no exception to the warrant requirement justified or will justify those seizures. Defendants’ conduct described above constitutes an unreasonable seizure of Pettibone and the other citizens who were or will be detained…

Oregon’s citizens are at risk of kidnapping by militias and other civilian “volunteers” taking it onto themselves to pull peaceful protesters into their cars, in a manner that resembles the federal actions described above. And Oregon’s own police agencies are therefore injured, by roving federal officers confusing citizens about whether they are obligated to comply with armed men ordering them into unmarked vans…

Defendants’ actions described above constitute a public nuisance because they unreasonably interfere with the general public’s right to public safety, public peace, public comfort, and public convenience…


The Lawsuit Alleges that Some Citizens Were Detained Without Explanation

The lawsuit describes the experiences of citizens who were allegedly detained without explanation. It cites a July 15 incident with Mark Pettibone, who said that he was confronted by armed men in camouflage who pushed him into a van and did not identify themselves. He said he was taken to a building and didn’t learn until later that it was a federal courthouse. Pettibone said he was then read his Miranda rights, but not told why he was arrested or given a lawyer when he requested one. He said he was later released without citation, record, or paperwork.

You can read Pettibone’s declaration here.

The complaint goes on to note that Portland residents have the right to walk the streets without being confronted by people dressed in paramilitary gear. You can see a screenshot form Page 5 of the complaint below:

Department of Justice

The lawsuit also notes that these actions are being taken by federal agencies without informing state law enforcement.


Residents Have Shared Interactions with Federal Agencies in Stories & Videos

A number of stories and videos have circulated from residents sharing their interactions with federal agencies in Portland. Here are some of the videos circulating on social media.

Mother Jones reported that the arrest above was by Customs and Border Patrol agents. A spokesperson said: “CBP agents had information indicating the person in the video was suspected of assaults against federal agents or destruction of federal property. Once CBP agents approached the suspect, a large and violent mob moved towards their location. For everyone’s safety, CBP agents quickly moved the suspect to a safer location for further questioning. The CBP agents identified themselves and were wearing CBP insignia during the encounter. The names of the agents were not displayed due to recent doxing incidents against law enforcement personnel who serve and protect our country.”

One of the main stories circulating was shared by Pettibone and friend Conner O’Shea with OPB. Pettibone’s account became part of the Oregon lawsuit. O’Shea told OPB that when Pettibone was detained (as described in the section above), he saw men in camo driving unmarked vehicles and didn’t know what was happening. O’Shea said he ran and hid when a second unmarked van began pursuing him.

The U.S. Marshals Service told OPB that they had not arrested Pettibone.

Here’s another video that circulated on July 17:

Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli told NPR that federal agents were indeed using unmarked vehicles to pick up protesters in Portland. He said it was part of standard procedure and some people were later released when it was determined they weren’t the person of interest:

“I fully expect that as long as people continue to be violent and to destroy property that we will attempt to identify those folks. We will pick them up in front of the courthouse. If we spot them elsewhere, we will pick them up elsewhere. And if we have a question about somebody’s identity – like the first example I noted to you – after questioning determine it isn’t someone of interest, then they get released. And that’s standard law enforcement procedure, and it’s going to continue as long as the violence continues. … The legal justification is that they are people suspected of damaging or attacking federal personnel or property. That’s the justification. That’s the basis for jurisdiction.

OPB reported that several other people said federal officers were detaining people who were not near federal property and may not have been engaged in criminal activity.

Cuccinelli told NPR that they are seeking to prosecute people in federally related cases not just in Portland, but in other cities too.

Cuccinelli said: ” With as much lawbreaking is going on, we’re seeking to prosecute as many people as are breaking the law as it relates to federal jurisdiction. That’s not always happening with respect to local jurisdiction and local offenses. But, you know, this is a posture we intend to continue not just in Portland but in any of the facilities that we’re responsible for around the country.”

READ NEXT: Daily COVID-19 Updates