Oregonians who've participated in local demonstrations against police brutality have filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration, accusing its agencies of using excessive force and illegal detentions to restrict the constitutional rights of protesters.
The federal lawsuit, filed Wednesday by the ACLU of Oregon, specifically addresses the actions of federal officers with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the US Marshals Service, assigned by Donald Trump to safeguard federal buildings from protesters in Portland. These officers—dressed in combat gear—took the lead on responding to local protests from July 4 to around July 27, at times collaborating with local police to stamp out nightly demonstrations held in front of downtown Portland's federal courthouse.
"The tactics used by the officers went beyond what was required for their limited mission of protecting federal property and reflected a policy designed to retaliate against and to deter the protesters because of their views and beliefs," the complaint reads.
It continues: "These tactics included the use of surveillance, warrantless arrests... and the indiscriminate use of excessive force, including shooting protesters in the head and body with impact munitions and pepper balls, spraying them directly in the face with pepper spray, shoving them to the ground, hitting and beating them with batons, and firing massive clouds of tear gas at them even when doing so was not necessary to protect federal property."
Lawyers allege these actions violate three amendments to the US Constitution: the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech, the right to freedom from unwarranted governmental seizures, and the right to due process.
The complaint names eight individuals as plaintiffs. Some of the individuals' stories are already well-known, like that of Mark Pettibone, a protester abducted by federal officers in an unmarked van; Christopher David, a veteran whose hand was broken after federal officers beat him with a baton; and Mac Smiff, a protester who suffered a concussion after being hit in the head by an impact munition.
The lawsuit was also filed on behalf of two new activist organizations—Rose City Justice and the Black Millennial Movement—that have been involved in organizing and attending recent protests. ACLU lawyers argue that these groups' right to protest for racial justice was undermined by federal officer's threat of violence.
"Black Millennial Movements’ effectiveness as an organization will be irreparably harmed by its inability to generate participation at protest events because potential participants will have been deterred from participation by the threat of unjustified use of violence and/or tear gas," the complaint reads.
This is the third federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Oregon against federal law enforcement officials regarding their actions during recent Portland protests. On June 3, the civil rights group filed a complaint against the Portland Police Bureau (PPB), accusing officers of violating the rights of journalists and legal observers at protests—a lawsuit which was extended to include federal officers in July. In late July, the ACLU also sued the feds on behalf of volunteer medics who had been assaulted by federal officers.
"President Trump, [DHS Acting Secretary] Chad Wolf and this administration have attempted to silence a movement that dares to realize the American dream of a nation where everyone, not just white people, can live free,” said Kelly Simon, interim legal director of the ACLU of Oregon, in a press statement Wednesday. “This lawsuit seeks to hold the Trump administration accountable for its dangerous and profoundly unconstitutional actions in Portland. Black lives matter.”