US Attorney Says Federal Government Won’t Give Up Courthouse: ‘We’re Not Leaving’

July 27, 2020 Updated: July 27, 2020

Oregon’s U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams said the federal government will not abandon any of the federal buildings in Portland amid weeks of unrest, riots, and attacks on federal property.

“Anyone who thinks we’re just going to give up the courthouse, Hatfield, Pioneer (Courthouse) or any other federal facility downtown, that’s not going to happen,” Williams told The Oregonian newspaper. “We’re not leaving.”

For the past two months, there have been demonstrations and riots outside the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse, which has been vandalized and set on fire, while agitators have thrown objects such as fireworks and knives at federal officers. It has prompted the White House to deploy specialized federal agents to defend the building, drawing condemnation from Democratic leaders in the city and state.

Demonstrators and agitators have alleged that federal agents have made arrests that violate their civil rights. The unrest was sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which also triggered Black Lives Matter demonstrations in numerous cities earlier this summer.

Reports of officers making arrests using unmarked vehicles have sparked several lawsuits against the Trump administration, including a suit from Oregon’s attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum. However, that was denied U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman (pdf) on Friday.

Demonstrators sit and kneel as tear gas fills the air during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse in Portland, Ore., on July 26, 2020. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo)

Williams, however, said that “violent extremists” have beset the courthouse and called on citizens to ask them to leave. “Until that happens, we’re going to do what we need to do to protect federal property,‘’ he told the paper. “When the violence ends, then there won’t be a need for the presence of nightly federal officers. … It seems quite simple.”

At the same time, the state’s top prosecutor had critical words for the city of Portland’s move to ban police from working with federal agents, saying it is “short-sighted” and “doesn’t help anything.”

Previously, Williams said the officers have been “subjected to nightly threats and assaults from demonstrators while performing their duties.”

Workers place wooden boards over windows
Workers place wooden boards over windows as graffit is shown on walls at the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland, Calif., on July 26, 2020. (Jeff Chiu/AP Photo)

Over the weekend, Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf said Portland has a different situation than other cities that have seen “normal criminal activity.”

“They’re coming armed with rocks, bottles, baseball bats, power tools, commercial-grade fireworks, eliciting that violence and targeting their violence on federal courthouses and federal law enforcement officers,” Wolf told Fox News on Sunday. “That’s very different than what’s going on in Chicago, places like Chicago, Albuquerque, Kansas City,” he added. “That is where you see normal criminal activity, street crime, what we say regarding gangs and drug dealers.”

Isabel Van Brugen and Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.