Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, spoke by phone Wednesday with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas about the agency’s use of force during last summer’s racial justice protests in Portland.
“Secretary Mayorkas has told me that what went on in Portland is unacceptable,” Wyden said in a statement following the call.
For the last year, Wyden has repeatedly asked DHS and the U.S. Department of Justice questions about the deployment of hundreds of federal officers to the city as part of the Trump administration’s response to the protests, which escalated tensions.
Not only has Wyden raised questions about the use of force that left many peaceful protesters injured, but he has pressed officials about the health and environmental effects of federal officer’s widespread and nightly use of tear gas.
“Mayorkas told me he agrees that the human toll of tear gas is serious and that the use of tear gas in or near schools is unacceptable,” Wyden said.
Until recently, Wyden said he’s been stonewalled. The senator released a redacted version of the agency’s written responses to his long standing questions about Operation Diligent Valor, the name DHS gave to its response in Portland.
The document, provided by Mayorkas in a letter dated July 14, reveals an even larger number of federal officers sent to the city over a longer period of time. The agency said it deployed 1,315 personnel between June 4, 2020 and March 21, 2021. Those officers came from the Federal Protective Service, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and at times DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis.
“The law enforcement personnel deployed to Portland included those from special response teams, special operation groups, and rapid protection forces, among other officers,” DHS told Wyden. Some of the deployed agents, presumably with CPB, were sent to Portland “to conduct aerial videography, provide airborne situational awareness.”
For months, Wyden held up President Biden’s nominee to run Customs and Border Protection. Following Wednesday’s call, Wyden said he’d allow the nomination of Tucson Police Chief Chris Mangus to move forward.
In written responses, DHS also answered Wyden’s questions on how agents were identifiable as law enforcement officers. A story by OPB last July raised questions about whether federal officers identified themselves while making arrests of some protesters using unmarked vehicles. DHS acknowledged to Wyden that plainclothes surveillance teams, ICE officers and some CPB agents were not identifiably by personnel numbers or badges.
“Specific uniform and equipment policies are regulated by each DHS component,” the agency wrote to Wyden. DHS said it’s in the process of reviewing uniforms for agency and officer identification.
Many injured protesters who have sued DHS have had a difficult time getting any information about the identifies of the officers they allege injured them.
DHS didn’t immediately respond to OPB’s questions about Mayorkas’ call with Wyden. On Wednesday, the agency announced the formation of a “law enforcement coordination council,” to review incidents and “ensure more fair, equitable, and impartial policing.”
“DHS is committed to ensuring our law enforcement personnel and our law enforcement partners have the training and tools to execute their mission, including by protecting civil rights, civil liberties, and privacy,” Mayorkas said in a statement.
The announcement of the newly formed council comes as DHS is under fire following images of CPB officers on horseback going after Haitian migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Wyden said Mayorkas told him DHS would begin reviewing its policies surrounding use of force and chemical munitions this week.
While last summer’s protests were largely peaceful there was violence, at times. Many protesters reported injuries from impact weapons and other crowd control weapons. Law enforcement also reported hundreds of injuries, according to a report by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General.