WASHINGTON — Journalists and legal observers covering protests in Portland, Oregon, say federal law enforcement officers have shot at them, maced them, and forced them to move, in violation of a federal judge's order.
US District Judge Michael Simon entered a temporary restraining order on July 23 that blocks federal officers from arresting or using physical force against clearly marked journalists and legal observers in Portland. In first-person declarations filed in court on Tuesday, legal observers and reporters described being shot at and maced, and in some instances they provided video footage of the incidents.
Lawyers for the journalists and legal observers are asking Simon to hold the US Department of Homeland Security and the US Marshals Service in contempt of court. They want Simon to prohibit any federal agent who violates the temporary restraining order (TRO) from being involved in "armed operations" in Oregon; to consider a "complete ban" on the use of lethal or "less lethal" weapons by federal officers; and to order senior Trump administration officials, including acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf and senior DHS official Ken Cuccinelli, to appear in court and explain why they shouldn't face sanctions.
"Every day it has existed, federal agents have intentionally violated the Court’s TRO. As a result of the federal agents’ defiance of the Court’s order, the free press remains unsafe while trying to document and observe the cataclysmic violence that federal authorities are inflicting on Portland. The federal agents — and their commanders, whom the Court ordered to be notified of the TRO — are not above the law," lawyers representing the journalists and legal observers wrote.
The Trump administration has deployed more than 100 federal officers to respond to demonstrations in Portland, largely around the Mark O. Hatfield US Courthouse. Federal agents have been accused of using excessive force in their response to protests around the courthouse and of making unlawful arrests of protesters; one viral video appeared to show federal agents grabbing a person off the street and placing them into an unmarked van earlier this month.
Attorney General Bill Barr defended the administration's response in testimony on Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee, saying that at night, the peaceful daytime protests have devolved into violence. The Justice Department on Monday tweeted photos of items that federal officers confiscated from "violent agitators" outside the courthouse, including "gasoline, hockey sticks, defense shields, leaf blowers, paint sprayers, paint cans with paint," and a jar it sad was "prepped for a Molotov cocktail."
A Justice Department spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.
The latest court filing from the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon and other lawyers includes nine declarations from journalists and legal observers who alleged they were targeted by federal officers in violation of Simon's order last week.
Haley Nicholson, who said in her declaration she was wearing a neon green legal observer hat while filming the demonstrations on July 24, included a link to a video that appears to show an officer pointing a gun through an opening in a fence and shooting into a group of people standing on the other side. Nicholson said the officer shot her from about 4 feet away in her chest with a 40mm rubber bullet, and included a photo of the bruise.
Kat Mahoney, a lawyer volunteering as a legal observer at the demonstrations, wrote in her declaration that she was wearing a blue American Civil Liberties Union vest that identified her as a legal observer. Mahoney wrote that while she was filming and observing federal agents at around 12:45 a.m. on July 24, standing 6 to 10 feet away from nonviolent protesters, a federal officers shot a pink paint bullet at her head "for no reason."
The following night, Mahoney wrote that federal officers sprayed mace at her and other legal observers at close range, even though they wearing blue vests and neon green hats that identified them as legal observers. She included a link to a video that shows a person pointing to a neon green hat they're wearing, and then a uniformed officer on the other side of the fence walks over and sprays mace, according to Mahoney.
Rebecca Ellis, a staff reporter with Oregon Public Broadcasting, filed a declaration saying she was wearing a press pass when she was shot in the hand by federal officers while filming. She included a link to a tweet with the video she was filming when she was allegedly shot at. Ellis also wrote that federal officers forced her and other journalists to leave an area despite Simon's order, which said reporters and legal observers would not have to obey dispersal orders.
Another OPB staff reporter, Jonathan Levinson, wrote in a declaration that he was wearing his press pass and a helmet with "PRESS" on the front and back when a federal officer shot a paint round at him early in the morning on July 24. Levinson said there were few protesters in the area around him, and he was taking pictures of officers behind a fence at the time.
Multiple lawsuits are pending in federal court challenging the actions by federal officers deployed to Portland. Last week, a judge in a case brought by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum denied her office's request for a temporary restraining order that would place limits on when federal officers could arrest and detain protesters and would force officers to identify themselves when making arrests.