Judge hears Oregon request to restrain federal agents

Wednesday, July 22, 2020
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Federal officers use chemical irritants and crowd control munitions to disperse Black Lives Matter protesters outside the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse on Wednesday, July 22, 2020, in Portland, Ore.

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A federal judge heard arguments Wednesday on Oregon’s request for a restraining order against federal agents sent to the state’s biggest city to quell protests that have spiraled into nightly clashes between authorities and demonstrators.

The lawsuit, filed by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, alleges that federal agents sent by President Donald Trump have arrested people with no probable cause, whisked protesters away in unmarked cars and used excessive force to quell the unrest. It’s part of growing pushback against the Trump administration’s use of federal agents in Portland and its plans to do the same in other cities.

In a twist, the judge hearing the case — U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman — works out of the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse, which has been a target for more than 50 nights of protests following the killing of George Floyd. Floyd, a Black man, died after being pinned at the neck by a white Minneapolis police officer, igniting protests against racial injustice nationwide.

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

During the hearing — held by videoconference because of the coronavirus pandemic — Rosenblum 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.”

There are 114 federal agents in Portland, according to Steve Lippold, another attorney for the state.

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.

“It’s important to underscore what’s at stake here. The Hatfield courthouse did not damage itself,” he said, calling the protests “dangerous and volatile.”

Mosman said the declaration of one man, who said in court papers that he was arrested by federal agents for no reason and later released, seemed meet the bar for Oregon’s motion for a temporary restraining order.