Oregon’s attorney general filed suit late Friday to stop military-style squads deployed by the Department of Homeland Security from engaging in the “kidnap and false arrest” of citizens.
The strongly worded lawsuit seeking an injunction to stop the assaults was one of several outraged responses after squads of men in military fatigues and no apparent identification leaped from unmarked vans to grab and detain people walking the streets of Portland over the past week.
“Defendants’ tactics violate the rights of all people detained without a warrant or basis for arrest, and violate the state’s sovereign interests in enforcing laws and protecting people within its border from kidnap and false arrest — without serving any legitimate federal law enforcement purpose,” notes the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon by state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. The actions violate the public’s right to “safety,” and “peace,” the suit adds.
Acting head of Homeland Security Chad Wolf has defended the extraordinary actions as necessary to crack down on what he calls “violent anarchists” in Portland. But almost every one the emergency problems he listed in a recent statement on the DHS website consisted of “graffiti.”
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) has dismissed Wolf’s characterization of violence as fantasy and “political theater” staged in a desperate bid to help Donald Trump win reelection.
The DHS paramilitary squads snatching citizens off the street violates three constitutional amendments — the right to free speech, protection from illegal search, and protection from loss of liberty without due process of law, argues the suit, which names DHS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Federal Protective Service and unknown officers “John Does 1-10” as defendants.
Federal enforcement officers have used “unmarked vehicles to drive around downtown Portland, detain protesters and place them in the officers’ unmarked vehicles, removing them from the public without either arresting them or stating a basis for an arrest,” the suit notes.
The suit includes the chilling experience of Portland resident Mark Pettibone. He recounted being snatched off the street, locked up in a cell in an unknown location, not told why he was detained nor provided access to an attorney — then suddenly released without any citation, paperwork or record of his arrest.
“Oregonians have the right to walk through downtown Portland at night and in the early hours of the morning,” the suit emphasizes.
“Ordinarily, a person exercising [this] right ... who is confronted by anonymous men in uniform in military-type fatigues and ordered into an unmarked van can reasonably assume that he is being kidnapped and is the victim of a crime.”
The “roving” bands of unidentified federal officers are “injuring” citizens by “taking away” their “ability to determine whether they are being kidnapped by militia or other malfeasants dressed in paramilitary gear,” or are being arrested, argues the suit, which calls for a court injunction to end the federal activity.
The U.S. attorney for Oregon, Billy Williams, has also demanded an investigation by Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General “directed specifically at the actions of DHS personnel.”
The American Civil Liberties Union also sued DHS and the U.S. Marshals Service on Friday to block federal law enforcement from “dispersing, arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force” against journalists or legal observers tracking the federal actions.
Both Oregon senators and two members of Congress from the state have also called for an investigation into “paramilitary assaults” by the DHS “occupying army.”
Brown told the Washington Post on Friday that the Trump administration squads have “nothing to do with public safety” and that the intent is to “pour gasoline on the fire” as part of a political strategy to demonize protesters.
“We know that things were calming down,” she said. “We know that the presence of federal officers has inflamed the streets.”
Last weekend, a protester was severely wounded after he was shot in the face by federal marshals using ammo classified as “less lethal.” The Department of Justice’s inspector general has launched an investigation into the shooting.
CORRECTION: This article previously misidentified state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum as “Emily.”