Federal law enforcement officers sent to Portland this summer amid protests downtown may not have been property trained, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general found in a report released this week. More broadly, the DHS officers sent to cities across the country to protect federal property were not properly authorized under federal law, the OIG found.

The report, critical of how the U.S. Department of Homeland Security deployed its officers this summer, was issued the day before the election by the watchdog for DHS.

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Federal law enforcement officers use tear gas to disperse protesters during demonstrate against racism and police violence in front of the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse on July 12, 2020. Earlier in the night, federal law enforcement officers shot a demonstrator in the head with a less lethal impact munition, causing severe injury.

Federal law enforcement officers use tear gas to disperse protesters during demonstrate against racism and police violence in front of the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse on July 12, 2020. Earlier in the night, federal law enforcement officers shot a demonstrator in the head with a less lethal impact munition, causing severe injury.

Jonathan Levinson / OPB

In June and July, the head of the Federal Protective Service, Director L. Eric Patterson, issued a series of memos, essentially giving clearance for protest work near federal property to officers from other agencies within DHS, including the U.S. Secret Service, Customs and Boarder Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Transportation Security Administration. None of those agencies are typically charged with protecting federal buildings.

The officers who deployed to Portland repeatedly engaged in questionable conduct as they tried to quell protests, including severely injuring protesters, using unmarked vehicles to detain people, and straying blocks from federal property to chase demonstrators.

The memos came amid protests in cities across the country, with few larger than in Portland, where thousands gathered outside the federal courthouse to protest systemic racism, police brutality and the Trump administration’s crackdown on the city.

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According to the inspector general, Patterson’s agency didn’t identify specific officers outside the Federal Protective Service by name when designating them to help protect federal buildings. In place of names, memos just stated: “you."

“We are issuing this management alert because the Director of the Federal Protective Service did not properly designate DHS employees recently deployed to protect Federal properties," the OIG report states. “The larger problem with the FPS Director’s approach to designation is that he did not identify any DHS employees by name who could exercise authority" under federal law.

Some memos reference an attached list that suggest those officers and agents would be the ones designated to work under FPS, but there’s no actual list, the OIG report found.

The report specifically calls out DHS officers sent to Portland.

“Another effect of the FPS Director’s approach is that several law enforcement personnel were deployed to Portland, Oregon, to augment FPS' protection efforts, but may not have received training on 40 U.S.C. § 1315 before they sought to exercise that statutory authority,” the report states.

The referenced federal law spells out how officers can legally go about protecting federal property. For example, it allows officers to carry firearms, enforce federal laws to protect people and property, conduct investigations, and make arrests without a warrant if the officer witnesses an offense.

Patterson stressed the importance of receiving training on that federal statute, the OIG report notes.

“Yet we identified several individuals who deployed to Portland but whom FPS could not confirm received training," the report states. “Some of these individuals used force while deployed to Portland."

For its part, Homeland Security largely dismissed the finding and recommendations. In response, DHS attorneys said the agency properly designated officers. They said the inspector general “improperly construed” federal law to require “by-name designation of officers, and did not acknowledge that FPS maintains a list of employees who completed FPS' five-step cross-designation process.”

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