US agents arrest 18 during week of chaotic Portland protests


Federal officers use chemical irritants and projectiles to disperse Black Lives Matter protesters at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse on Friday, July 24, 2020, in Portland, Ore. Since federal officers arrived in downtown Portland in early July, violent protests have largely been limited to a two block radius from the courthouse. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — U.S. agents have arrested 18 people in Portland this week as the clash with protesters opposing federal intervention in the liberal city turned chaotic for another night, Oregon’s top federal prosecutor said.

The number doesn’t include arrests made early Friday, when federal officers again used tear gas to force thousands of demonstrators from crowding around a U.S. courthouse, a target of two months of nightly protests. Protesters projected lasers on the building and tried to take down a security fence. They scattered as clouds of gas rose up and agents fired crowd control munitions, which critically injured a demonstrator this month.

The demonstrations that began after George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis have often turned violent, and President Donald Trump sent federal forces to Portland early this month, saying he wanted to quell the unrest. Local and state officials say they have exacerbated tensions and should leave. It’s triggered a crisis of the limits of federal power in states, which could grow after Trump said he will deploy agents to more Democratic-led cities to combat rising crime.

The protesters who were arrested face federal charges including assaulting federal officers, arson and damaging federal property, U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams said. All the defendants are local, and they were released after making a court appearance.

U.S. officers “working to protect the courthouse have been subjected to nightly threats and assaults from demonstrators while performing their duties,” according to a statement from Williams’ office.

Homeland Security acting Secretary Chad Wolf previously said 43 federal arrests had been made as of Tuesday.

The news of additional arrests came after a judge on Thursday blocked U.S. agents from arresting or using physical force against journalists and legal observers at protests in Oregon’s largest city.

U.S. Judge Michael Simon had previously ruled that journalists and legal observers are exempt from police orders requiring protesters to disperse once an unlawful assembly has been declared. U.S. lawyers intervened, saying journalists should have to leave when ordered.

“This order is a victory for the rule of law,” said Jann Carson, interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon.

The judge said First Amendment concerns held more sway than law enforcement objections.

“None of the government’s proffered interests outweigh the public’s interest in accurate and timely information about how law enforcement is treating” protesters, Simon wrote.

His order is in effect for two weeks, and he said journalists and observers must wear clear identification. A freelance photographer covering the protests for The Associated Press submitted an affidavit saying he was beaten with batons and hit with chemical irritants and rubber bullets this week.

The U.N. human rights office said Friday that protesters and journalists in American cities, including Portland, must be able to take part in peaceful demonstrations without risking arbitrary arrest, detention, unnecessary use of force or other violations of their rights.

The Justice Department’s inspector general says it will review the conduct of federal agents who responded to unrest in Portland and in Washington after concerns emerged from members of Congress and the public.

The ACLU lawsuit is one of several in response to law enforcement actions on Portland’s streets. The state is seeking an restraining order limiting federal agents’ powers during the demonstrations.

That lawsuit filed by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum 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 state’s motion asks a judge to command agents from the US. Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, Federal Protective Service and 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.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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