ACLU Files Lawsuit Against Trump Administration Over Deployment to Portland

August 27, 2020 Updated: August 27, 2020

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, alleging federal officers used excessive force against demonstrators in Portland.

Federal officers were deployed to the city in early July after rioters targeted the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse, a federal building, with little intervention from local law enforcement.

The resulting clashes drew worldwide attention as activists night after night sought to attack the building, only to be repelled by federal officers using tear gas and other crowd control measures. Both sides suffered injuries, and some instances of force by officers are already under investigation.

The 61-page lawsuit alleges that defendants, including federal officers whose names were not included and President Donald Trump himself, violated plaintiffs’ rights enshrined in the First and Fourth Amendments.

The deployment itself was also not legally authorized because acting Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Chad Wolf wasn’t properly serving in the position, plaintiffs argued, referring to a recent legal opinion from a congressional watchdog.

Even if Wolf was properly authorized to deploy officers to Portland, the officers exceeded their powers, the lawsuit states. Plaintiffs want the court to declare the actions unlawful and give them economic damages for the alleged violation of their constitutional rights.

The DHS and the White House didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Demonstrators try to topple a steel fence
Rioters try to topple a steel fence during a Black Lives Matter event at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse in Portland, Ore., on July 25, 2020, (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo)

Wolf defended the deployment earlier this month in an appearance before Congress, telling lawmakers that federal officers “were left to defend the courthouse besieged by attempts of arson and constant destruction.”

“Instead, our law enforcement officers were assaulted with, among other weapons, mortar-style commercial grade fireworks, accelerants, IEDs, sledgehammers, concrete, and slingshots. Officers have suffered chemical burns, bloody wounds, and attacks with blinding lasers, leaving some of our colleagues with eye injuries. The security fence we installed to protect the Courthouse and our officers has been repeatedly attacked with power tools in a dangerous attempt to topple the barrier. To be clear—these are not the actions of peaceful protesters, they are the actions of criminals,” he added, before outlining 277 injuries that officers and agents suffered in July.

Plaintiffs include Chris David, a U.S. Navy veteran who was seen on video being hit repeatedly by a federal officer, and Mark Pettibone, who was seen on video being apprehended by federal officers who pulled up in an unmarked van.

They and others were joined by the Black Millennial Movement and Rose City Justice, two groups affiliated with Black Lives Matter. The groups are pushing to dramatically reduce funding to the police and immediately abolish police unions, among other demands.

“This lawsuit seeks to hold the Trump administration accountable for its dangerous and profoundly unconstitutional actions in Portland. Black lives matter,” Kelly Simon, interim legal director of the ACLU of Oregon, said in a statement.

“The very idea that Black people deserve humanity and decency is something that police and federal law enforcement agencies are so opposed to that they’ve employed nearly lethal responses,” added Shanice Clark of the Black Millenial Movement. “Our government should not have come here to suppress this movement.”

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