Oregon urges judge to rein in US agents deployed in Portland

Full Screen
1 / 15

Noah Berger

Smoke fills the sky as federal officers try to disperse Black Lives Matter protesters on Wednesday, July 22, 2020, in Portland, Ore. A federal judge is hearing arguments on Oregon's request for a restraining order against federal agents who have been sent to the state's largest city to quell protests that have spiraled into nightly clashes between authorities and demonstrators. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

PORTLAND, Ore. – Attorneys for Oregon argued Wednesday for a restraining order against federal agents deployed to quell protests in Portland — a standoff that some legal experts have warned could lead to a constitutional crisis in an election year.

A federal judge heard arguments from the state and the U.S. government in a lawsuit filed by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who accuses federal agents of arresting protesters without probable cause, whisking them away in unmarked cars and using excessive force. Federal authorities have disputed those allegations.

The lawsuit is part of the growing pushback to President Donald Trump sending federal agents to Portland and announcing they'd also be going to Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico, to fight rising crime, a move that's deepening the country’s already considerable political divide. Democratic mayors of 15 cities condemned the use of the agents in a letter to the U.S. attorney general.

The court hearing focused on the actions of more than 100 federal agents responding to protests outside Portland's Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse, which has been a target for more than 50 nights of demonstrations against racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

The motion for a temporary restraining order asks U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman to command agents from the Department of Homeland Security, the Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Protective Service and the U.S. Marshals Service to immediately stop detaining protesters without probable cause, to identify themselves and their agency before arresting anyone, and to explain why an arrest is taking place.

During the hearing — held by videoconference because of the coronavirus pandemic — the state acknowledged that federal agents have the right to defend the courthouse but argued that they had overstepped.

Rosenblum, the state attorney general, said she was asking the court to “declare it not acceptable for federal officers to use unconstitutional, police state-type acts to detain citizens of Oregon without cause.”

David Morrell, an attorney for the U.S. government, called the motion “extraordinary” and told the court it was based solely on “a few threadbare declarations” from witnesses and a Twitter video.