Protest | Right to Assemble

Oregon Sues Federal Agencies For Violating Portlanders’ First Amendment Right to Protest

Portland Federal Officers
Federal law enforcement officers, deployed under the Trump administration’s new executive order to protect federal monuments and buildings, face off with protesters against racial inequality in Portland, Oregon, U.S. July 18, 2020. REUTERS/Nathan Howard

Oregon Attorney General Ellen F. Rosenblum is suing multiple federal government agencies following reports showing that federal officers have been using unmarked vehicles to detain protesters without warning or have been arresting them without explanation.

Filed on July 17th in the United State District Court for the District Court of Oregon, the lawsuit claims that federal agencies including the United States Department of Homeland Security and the United States Customs and Border Protection are using fear tactics to interfere with people’s First Amendment right to engage in peaceful protest.

“Citizens who are reasonably afraid of being picked up and shoved into unmarked vans—possibly by federal officers, possibly by individuals opposed to the protests—will feel compelled to stay away, for their own personal safety, and will therefore be unable to express themselves in the way that they have the right to do,” the complaint reads. 

Portland residents have been protesting since late May in response to George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. 

In early July, the Department of Homeland Security deployed officers from more than six federal law enforcement agencies and departments to allegedly protect federal property, and to discourage unlawful demonstrators. Since arriving, they have charged at least 13 people with crimes related to the protest, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.

While some of the arrests occurred outside of a federal courthouse, others happened on the street and involved protesters who say they were not among those who were breaking the law.

The state’s lawsuit cites one of these cases, which involved Mark Pettibone, 29-year-old citizen who says he was walking home from a peaceful protest when federal agents “took him off the street, pushed him into a van, and drove him through downtown until unloading him into a building,” which he believes was a federal courthouse. There, Pettibone says agents placed him in a cell, read him his Miranda rights, but did not offer him a lawyer nor tell him why he had been arrested. He was released “without any paperwork, citation, or record of his arrest.” 

Attorney General Rosemblum is asking the federal court to declare the federal agents’ recent behavior, including failing to identify themselves or give reason for arrest, unlawful. 

“We are today asking the federal court to stop the federal police from secretly stopping and forcibly grabbing Oregonians off our streets,” Rosemblum said in a statement announcing the lawsuit

The Oregon attorney general also said the state is announcing a criminal investigation into an incident involving a peaceful protester who says she was injured by a federal police officer.

Complaint NPR AG Statement