Portland seeks limits on federal officers' tactics against journalists, observers

By Rebecca Ellis (OPB)
Portland, Ore. July 22, 2020 7:16 p.m.

The city of Portland is pushing for a federal judge to restrict federal law enforcement’s ability to use force on journalists and legal observers, saying the federal officers are harming Portlanders engaging in non-violent protests against police brutality and that they are targeting observers. Protesters have routinely made this same claim against the city’s own police force.

Federal officers deploy gas to disperse crowds of protesters near the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse in Portland, Ore., July 20, 2020.

Federal officers deploy gas to disperse crowds of protesters near the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse in Portland, Ore., July 20, 2020.

Jonathan Levinson / OPB

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Since protests began nearly two months ago, protesters, along with two members of the City Council, have accused Portland police of using excessive force when policing protests and of harming journalists and legal observers on the ground.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the city, alleging the city's police force was targeting and attacking journalists and observers. On July 2, U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon approved a temporary restraining order against the city of Portland, placing new restrictions on how local officers can interact with these observers. The city argued against the restrictions at the time, saying they were concerned such restrictions couldn't translate into practical rules for police.

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Related: ACLU Adds Federal Agencies To Lawsuit Against Portland Police

Attorneys for the ACLU have since added federal law enforcement to the suit over the city's objections. They are now pushing for another temporary restraining order that would place similar restrictions on the federal officers. Those restrictions included barring the police from arresting, threatening to arrest or using physical force against journalists or legal observers unless they "reasonably know" that person has committed a crime.

There will be a hearing on the order Thursday. This time, the city is in support, saying the order is necessary to stop the violence inflicted on observers by the federal government.

The city filed a memo Wednesday in support of the temporary restraining order.

“The City objects to federal defendants targeting non-violent protesters, reporters, and legal observers,” the memo reads. “... The actions of federal defendants are escalating violence, inflaming tensions in our City, and harming Portlanders who seek to engage in non-violent protests in support of racial justice.”

Athul Acharya, an attorney working with the ACLU on the case, said he found the city’s support for the order ironic given the city’s push days ago to keep the federal government out of the lawsuit. The city had pushed for plaintiffs to make claims against the federal officers in a different lawsuit, saying they were concerned that lumping the two groups together could prejudice the court against the city.

“The city fought us tooth and nail to keep the feds out of this case and now that the feds are in the case they say the feds should be under the same restrictions they’re under,” he said. “It seems a bit ironic, but I’m glad we have the city’s support.”

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