The ACLU of Oregon has filed a legal motion asking a federal court to hold the Department of Homeland Security and United States Marshals Service in contempt for violating a recent restraining order barring federal officers from attacking journalists and legal observers in Portland.
On Thursday, July 23, a federal judge issued a restraining order prohibiting federal troops from arresting or targeting journalists and legal observers unless they were committing a specific crime. The restraining order was in response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Oregon soon after federal agents began guarding the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse in downtown Portland earlier this month. (Editor's note: The Mercury is one of several plaintiffs in the lawsuit.)
But according to a new motion for contempt from the ACLU Tuesday, federal agents did not stop targeting journalists after the restraining order took effect. The filing includes declarations from five reporters who say federal agents have directed targeted violence at them—including two Oregon Public Broadcasting journalists, Rebecca Ellis and Jonathan Levinson.
Ellis reports being shot in the hand by a federal officer while trying to film their response to protesters on Thursday night. Ellis posted video of the encounter on Twitter that night:
Feds approaching and just got shot in hand trying to film. Don’t think that TRO worked pic.twitter.com/L2kIEZPDWw
— Rebecca Ellis (@Rjaellis) July 24, 2020
Another reporter included in the new filing is Kathryn Elsesser, a freelance photographer who says federal agents attacked her on Saturday while she was on assignment for Agence France-Presse. The federal court’s restraining order requires journalists to clearly label themselves as members of the press—a requirement Elsesser was complying with.
“I was clearly marked as a member of the press and was standing by myself,” Elsesser said in her declaration. “Suddenly, without warning or reason, I felt a hard, searing, burning pain in the back of my arm. A federal agent had shot me from across the street with some type of bullet. I met multiple other photojournalists that night who were similarly attacked despite being clearly labeled as press.”
As part of its Tuesday motion, the ACLU of Oregon also asked U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon to order Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Under Secretary Ken Cuccinelli to “personally appear before the court and show cause as to why they should not be sanctioned for contempt,” per an ACLU press release.
The motion also asks that each federal officer who violated the restraining order be identified and required to appear in court, and calls for a complete ban on federal officers' use of lethal or "less lethal" weapons in Oregon.
Since protests against police brutality and racial injustice began in Portland over two months ago, journalists have routinely been subject to targeted violence and arrests by both federal agents and the Portland Police Bureau, despite interventions by federal and county judges and the Portland City Council. The ACLU has also filed lawsuits against the City of Portland for local police violence directed at journalists, legal observers, and medics. (The Mercury is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the city.)
“I intend to continue covering the protests, because I believe the events unfolding in Portland right now are of historic significance,” Levinson wrote in his declaration. “I am fearful for my safety, however, because hours after the court issued a restraining order, I saw federal agents brazenly violate it.”