Lawsuit seeks preliminary injunction on federal law enforcement in Portland

By Jonathan Levinson (OPB)
July 29, 2020 11:49 p.m.

Plaintiffs claim officers violated protesters' First, Fourth and 10th Amendment rights.

Plaintiffs in a civil rights lawsuit against a multitude of federal law enforcement agencies active in Portland have requested a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction that would place limits on the types of activities those agencies can undertake in the city.

The Western States Center, the First Unitarian Church of Portland, two state representatives and an ACLU legal observer are listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which alleges the federal government has violated protesters’ First, Fourth and 10th Amendment rights.


“The message that they’re deterring isn’t just the message against the federal government,” said Cliff Davidson, an attorney with Snell & Wilmer, the firm filing the lawsuit. “But it was the underlying message of Black Lives Matter and calls for police reform.”


Wednesday’s filing alleges federal officers have repeatedly engaged in policing activities far from federal properties, actively sought to deter First Amendment rights, have arrested protesters without probable cause, and used tear gas and munitions to attack peaceful protesters.

“They police away from federal facilities, and more broadly than the Tenth Amendment and federal law permit,” the motion reads. “They police illegally time and again. They violate the First Amendment by attacking peaceful protesters away from federal facilities and shooting press and photographers. They violate the Fourth Amendment through those attacks, through unprovoked gassing often away from federal facilities, and through intendedly spectacular displays of force.”

If granted, a temporary restraining order would largely stop federal officers from engaging with protesters who are not on or near federal property. Among other restrictions, officers couldn’t use crowd control weapons or engage with people who aren’t resisting orders and are farther than 100 yards from federal property. If someone was closer to the property, officers could only engage with that person if they had been warned to leave previously.

The request for an injunction came hours after state and federal officials reached a deal for additional federal law enforcement officers to leave. As part of the deal, Oregon State Police will assume responsibility for protecting the exterior of the federal courthouse. Lawyers in the case say there’s still a need to limit federal power.

“For one thing, there’s the president’s own statements and the statements of acting Director Wolf who have both insisted they are staying in Portland,” Davidson said, referring to acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf. “The president threatened to clear the city out. So that’s entirely consistent with what we’ve said they’ve been doing the whole time, which is policing the city because they don’t like the message of our protesters.”


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