Federal agents were hit with a lawsuit Friday for allegedly abducting Portlander Evelyn Bassi during the city’s 2020 racial justice protests. The federal complaint names agents with the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other federal law enforcement officials with violating Bassi’s constitutional rights to due process, free speech, and protections against unlawful seizure.
This is the latest in several lawsuits filed over the past two years that accuse the federal government of illegally abducting protesters during the 2020 protests.
Bassi began attending nightly protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in early June 2020, shortly before former president Donald Trump signed an executive order sending federal agents to respond to protests in Portland under a mission dubbed “Operation Diligent Valor.” The arrival of federal agents with DHS escalated the nightly protests, which had begun to wind down since their start in late May. Bassi’s attorneys—which include three lawyers with the Oregon Justice Resource Center and local defense attorney John Schlosser—describe the environment as a “warzone” in the complaint.
"Like thousands of Portlanders, Ms. Bassi marched in the streets demanding that American police departments, including the Portland Police Bureau, be held to account for taking the lives of Black Americans, "the lawsuit reads. "In response, the then-President of the United States of America launched a terror campaign against Portlanders protesting in the streets. Defendants employed tactics like forced disappearances of protesters without probable cause to intimidate the public and chill free speech."
On July 14, Bassi attended a protest outside of the Federal Courthouse in downtown Portland, arriving around 11 pm. After rallying with some one hundred protesters for a few hours, she and a friend decided to head home.
As the pair walked around the corner of the Multnomah County Justice Center at SW 2nd and SW Main St, an unmarked gray Dodge Grand Caravan pulled up next to them, and the passenger side doors opened to reveal a number of armed people dressed in camouflage fatigues.
According to the lawsuit, Bassi responded by throwing her hands up and saying, “We’re leaving, we’re leaving.” Her friend took off running, but Bassi slowly walked away with her hands above her head. The van continued to follow her around the block. That’s when Bassi began running towards the front of the Justice Center, where a crowd of protesters was still gathered. The van followed her, and two officers jumped out of the vehicle and grabbed Bassi’s arms, forcefully escorting her into the van. A video of this moment was published in September 2020 by the Washington Post, who obtained the recording from bystanders.
Bassi was then ordered to sit cross-legged on the floor of the van with her hands on her head, surrounded by armed officers. The officers did not identify themselves, leaving Bassi to assume the worst
“Given the outrageousness of these officers’ conduct and their fatigues, Plaintiff had no idea whether these were truly law enforcement officers,” the lawsuit reads. “They appeared to be soldiers in a warzone. This placed her in immediate apprehension that she was being put in a place beyond the protection of the law and the Constitution.”
While in the van, one officer asked Bassi, who was wearing a helmet that covered her hair, if she was blond. She said she was not.
The van drove through downtown for about ten minutes, until stopping at the intersection of SW Taylor and SW Broadway. Bassi was ordered to exit the van and put her hands on the vehicle’s roof, while an agent frisked her.
According to Bassi, an officer explained that she had been picked up because she matched the description of someone who had “committed a federal crime against an officer.” When officers removed her helmet, one said “that’s not him.” The person they were allegedly looking for was a blond man wearing a helmet. Officers told Bassi she was free to go, but not before allegedly dropping this warning :“You know, bro, we have cameras everywhere.”
According to the lawsuit, Bassi “spent the next week in a daze.”
“When she got home, the trauma of the evening prevented her from sleeping or caring for her needs,” the suit reads. “She agonized over the details. She agonizes still. Her head ached. She threw up. Her body hurt from being in a forced stress position in the vehicle.”
After meeting with a therapist, Bassi was diagnosed with having acute Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and prescribed medication to treat it. According to the lawsuit, this disorder makes it hard for Bassi to get more than three hours of sleep each night.
“To this day, Plaintiff lives with the anguish of having been unlawfully abducted in the middle of a terror campaign lead by Defendants at the behest of the President of the United States,” the lawsuit reads.
Bassi’s attorneys are requesting a jury trial to determine what she is owed for the damages inflicted on her by the feds, damages that include “bodily injury, pain, suffering, loss of liberty, mental and emotional suffering, worry, fear, anguish, and shock.”
Bassi wasn't the only person to experience what her lawyers describe as a "forced disappearance" by federal police in 2020. And she's not the first person to sue them for it. Mark Pettibone, who was also grabbed off the street by unmarked federal agents in 2020, is a plaintiff in a civil rights lawsuit against DHS and other federal law enforcement agencies filed in August 2020. And in April 2021, activist John Hacker joined a lawsuit against DHS, also for placing him in an unmarked van without charging him with a crime in 2020.