By Associated Press • 

Constitutional crisis looms over federal agents in Portland

“This is a democracy, not a dictatorship,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, said on Twitter.

By GILLIAN FLACCUS Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A potential constitutional crisis is looming over the actions of federal officers at protests in Oregon’s largest city that have been hailed by President Donald Trump but were done without local consent. The standoff could escalate there and elsewhere as Trump says he plans to send federal agents to other cities, too.

In Portland, demonstrators who have been on the streets for weeks have found renewed focus in clashes with camouflaged, unidentified agents outside the city's U.S. courthouse. Protesters crowded in front of the courthouse and the Justice Center late Monday night, before authorities cleared them out as the loud sound and light of flash bang grenades filled the sky.

State and local authorities, who didn't ask for federal help, are awaiting a ruling in a lawsuit filed late last week. State Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said in court papers that masked federal officers have arrested people on the street, far from the courthouse, with no probable cause and whisked them away in unmarked cars.

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security was planning to deploy about 150 of its agents to Chicago, according to an official with direct knowledge of the plans who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The agents are expected to stay for at least two months and could be sent to other locations at some point, the official said. Homeland Security said in a statement that the department does not comment on “allegedly leaked operations.”

“We’re going to have more federal law enforcement, that I can tell you,” Trump said Monday. “In Portland, they’ve done a fantastic job. They’ve been there three days, and they really have done a fantastic job in a very short period of time.”

As Oregon officials have, Chicago’s mayor has pushed back against the deployment of federal agents. It's not clear what exactly what they will do there, but Trump has pointed to rising gun violence in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city, where more than 63 people were shot, 12 fatally, over the weekend.

Homeland Security agents generally do lengthy investigations into human trafficking, drugs and weapons smuggling and child exploitation, but they have also been deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border during the height of the crisis there to help.

The tussle comes about two weeks ago after the Trump administration sent more than 100 federal law enforcement officers to Kansas City to help quell a rise in violence after the shooting death of a young boy there.

The ACLU of Oregon has sued in federal court over the agents’ presence in Portland, and the organization’s Chicago branch said it would similarly oppose a federal presence.

“This is a democracy, not a dictatorship,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, said on Twitter. “We cannot have secret police abducting people in unmarked vehicles. I can’t believe I have to say that to the President of the United States.”

Constitutional law experts said federal officers’ actions in the progressive city are a “red flag” in what could become a test case of states’ rights as the Trump administration expands federal policing.

“The idea that there’s a threat to a federal courthouse and the federal authorities are going to swoop in and do whatever they want to do without any cooperation and coordination with state and local authorities is extraordinary outside the context of a civil war,” said Michael Dorf, a professor of constitutional law at Cornell University.

“It is a standard move of authoritarians to use the pretext of quelling violence to bring in force, thereby prompting a violent response and then bootstrapping the initial use of force in the first place,” Dorf said.

The Department of Homeland Security tweeted that federal agents were barricaded in Portland's U.S. courthouse at one point and had lasers pointed at their eyes in an attempt to blind them.

“Portland is rife with violent anarchists assaulting federal officers and federal buildings,” the tweet said. “This isn’t a peaceful crowd. These are federal crimes.”

Top leaders in the U.S. House said Sunday that they were “alarmed” by the Trump administration’s tactics in Portland and other cities. They have called on federal inspectors general to investigate.

Trump, who's called the protesters “anarchists and agitators,” said the DHS and Justice Department agents are on hand to restore order at the courthouse and help Portland.

Nightly protests, which began after George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, have devolved into violence.

The Trump administration's actions run counter to the usual philosophies of American conservatives, who typically treat state and local rights with great sanctity and have long been deeply wary of the federal government — particularly its armed agents — interceding in most situations.

But Trump has shown that his actions don't always reflect traditional conservatism — particularly when politics, and in this case an impending election, are in play.

The protests have roiled Portland for more than seven weeks. Many rallies have attracted thousands and been largely peaceful. But smaller groups of up to several hundred people have focused on federal property and local law enforcement buildings, at times setting fires to police precincts, smashing windows and clashing violently with local police.

Portland police used tear gas on multiple occasions until a federal court order banned its officers from doing so without declaring a riot. Now, concern is growing that the tear gas is being used against demonstrators by federal officers instead.

Anger at the federal presence escalated on July 11, when a protester was hospitalized with critical injuries after a U.S. Marshals Service officer struck him in the head with a less-lethal round. Video shows the man, identified as Donavan LaBella, standing across the street from the officers holding a speaker over his head when he was hit.

Court documents filed in cases against protesters show that federal officers have posted lookouts on the upper stories of the courthouse and have plainclothes officers circulating in the crowd. Court papers in a federal case against a man accused of shining a laser in the eyes of Federal Protective Service agents show that Portland police turned him over to U.S. authorities after federal officers identified him.

Mayor Ted Wheeler, who's has been under fire for his handling of the protests, said on national TV talk shows Sunday that the demonstrations were dwindling before federal officers engaged.

“Their presence here is actually leading to more violence and more vandalism,” Wheeler said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Indeed, crowds of demonstrators had begun to dwindle a week ago, and some in the liberal city — including Black community leaders — had begun to call for the nightly demonstrations to end.

But by the weekend, the presence of federal troops and Trump’s repeated references to Portland as a hotbed of “anarchists” seemed to give a new life to the protests and attract a broader base.

On Sunday night, a crowd estimated at more than 500 people gathered outside the courthouse, including dozens of self-described “moms” who linked arms in front of a chain-link fence outside the courthouse. The demonstration continued into Monday morning.

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Associated Press writer Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.

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Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus.

 

Comments

Rotwang

What constitutional crisis? They are protecting federal property against criminals, which the city certainly has not done for two months.

GRM

Oh Lord sent brain to our country. They are protecting? They are stoking up unrest.

Hibb

The use of Federal Agents has become a necessity since neither Gov. Brown or Mayor Wheeler are able to do anything to not only quell the protests, but protect property - private, State and Federal. The reports of brutality often come with a measure of hyperbole on the part of those seeking change. In this particular case, there would be no injuries, no tear gas, and no rubber bullets being fired into the crowd if it were a peaceful assembly or better yet dispersed and gone home.

tagup

Maybe a review of the 1st & 4th amendments of the constitution is in order....

tagup

I wonder if Christopher David thought it was hyperbole.....

Treehouse

The Acting Sec. of Homeland Security has identified the officers involved in the arrests that are the subject of the State of Oregon's lawsuit as being with the Federal Protective Service. The Deputy Director of the Federal Protective Service during a public statement yesterday explained the details describing the "detentions" as they were recorded in official reports. At least one of the people "detained" was not a suspect in any criminal activity, but was believed to have information. His "detention" involved being zip tied, removed to an upper floor of the court house, being interrogated in an interview room for "about 20 minutes", and then being released.

That's an unlawful arrest without probable cause. It isn't a detention, under Terry v. Ohio or any other exception. Deputy Director Kline makes this statement in the apparent expectation that he has the support of the DOJ and DHS in ordering his officers to make arrests without warrant or probable cause.

If it has become the official policy of a federal agency that they will come to a city and conduct unconstitutional arrests, that pretty much makes it a constitutional crisis.

GRM

And it will go on and on but only in cities where Democrats are in charge. Wake up ! It’s all part of His campaign and for Him a perfect distraction from His disastrous failure in the Corona crisis. I once had the honor to meet John McCain. I think right now he is turning in his grave.

GRM

And it will go on and on but only in cities where Democrats are in charge. Wake up ! It’s all part of His campaign and for Him a perfect distraction from His disastrous failure in the Corona crisis. I once had the honor to meet John McCain. I think right now he is turning in his grave.

Bill B

GRM-Apparently you haven't noticed that the violence is happening in democratically controlled ciries! I find it interesting and disheartening that commenters here focus on the poor demonstrators and could care less about the police or business owners.

tagup

Nobody would be saying a word if the federal government had not exceed its authority....That for me is a lot more dangerous for democracy than a few bad protesters ....

GRM

I care very much for our police force and if you follow my comments you will see this. But it is up to the police and the elected administration to handle these problems. If you and I disagree how they do the job we can vote them out. We can’t let law overstepping agents do the job unless we called for it. They cannot be allowed to govern the streets and fire up unrest for a political advantage

tagup

Isn’t this the same issue (federal authorities overstepping their authority) the Bundy militia groups were fighting against at Malheur? Not a word from them?..Apparently, Ammond was only in it for free grazing rights on public property...

Bill B

Tagup said "
Nobody would be saying a word if the federal government had not exceed its authority". Don't you see that's exactly the problem. No one said anything while Portland went wild.

tagup

Hope you don’t pull a muscle from that stretch.....We wouldn’t be saying anything about law enforcement......The feds involvement hasn’t stopped anything and never will...protest crowds are bigger and more determined from there actions....city, county and state LE have plenty of manpower and it’s their responsibility. You don’t like the violence? me either, but federal intervention isn’t the answer.

Finch

If the protests were peaceful there would be no destruction and none of this would be happening. This has turned into a destruction derby every single night between midnight and 5:00 a.m. typically.

I fully agree with you Bill - defending these destructive and disrespectful bunch of criminals is unbelievable. If the governors and mayors had any control at all of their cities it would have never gotten this bad.

The residents and business owners should not have to live in fear in their own cities.

tagup

Who’s defending them?....Calling out the feds for overstepping and not following constitutional requirements for arrests does not equal defending the criminals.
You do remember why the protests began in the first place right?......Police misconduct....

Finch

It is so much more than that. This is past the point of dealing with police misconduct. It's mayhem and needs to be stopped.

tagup

Should we disregard the constitution when it’s inconvenient?

GRM

Yes it is so much more than that ! Ask Him. He will tell you. It’s all about the election!

Treehouse

Finch, with respect to the subject of this article, this has everything to do with the question of law enforcement misconduct.

DHS police acting under orders of the Acting Secretary are engaging daily in a number of specific activities that implicate the safety and well being of the community. The Secretary has been asked to explain and justify these activities but has essentially refused to do so.

Specifically the activities of greatest concern are:

federal law enforcement are actively engaging, detaining, and arresting Oregonians without any identification;

federal law enforcement are seeking to prevent the observation of these activities by forcefully clearing otherwise peaceful bystanders and observers, including members of the media, legal observers, and now even elected public officials from being present to observe from any safe distance while detentions and arrests are taking place;

federal officials are conducting arrests of Oregon citizens without warrant or probable cause, removing those citizens to other locations, detaining and interrogating them without their permission, and then releasing them without any criminal charges or even any documentary record of the arrest.

The question is, how do any of these specific activities relate to legitimate law enforcement purposes? What requirement of legitimate law enforcement is being met by operating incognito, by forcibly preventing observation or recording of police activities, and by conducting arrests without warrant or probable cause?

In any other context these specific tactics would constitute law enforcement misconduct as they variously violate the civil rights of all Oregonians.

BT

It is essential that law enforcement officers be clearly identified by name and/or badge number. When the government grants police powers that include the ultimate power to impose death, clear identification is the most minimal way to be able to hold accountable those who are authorized to exercise extraordinary power on behalf of our government. Murder under the cover law, as was the case with George Floyd, must be addressed. At least in the Floyd case we know the names of the officers. Not so much with federal authorities in Portland. And it is not enough that the leaders of an agency can name the detailed officers or confirm identities by looking up coded IDs worn on uniforms.
Portland can be a catalyst for a deep rethink about how much of a police state we want to live in.

Hibb

"Papers. Do you have your papers in order?"

"We don't need no stinking badges!"

"Halt! Who goes there?"

Bill B

wow, not worth responding to these comments.

Mudstump

And, where was Trump's army when ARMED protesters invaded Michigan's capitol building and attempted to enter the legislative chamber back in April? Where were Trump's thugs when these same ARMED protesters threatened the governor and other legislators? Michigan lawmakers are wearing bullet proof vests when they go to work.

Here are a few quotes from the protesters.....

“Drag that tyrant governor out to the front lawn. Fit her for a noose.”

“Plain and simple she needs to eat lead and send a statement to the rest of the democrats that they are next."

“Wonder how long till she’s hit with a shotgun blast."

“Can we please just take up a collection for an assassin to put that woman from Michigan down.” ​

“We need a good old fashioned lynch mob to storm the Capitol, drag her tyrannical ass out onto the street and string her up as our forefathers would have.”

“We haven’t had any bloodshed yet, but the populous is counting to three, and the other day was two. Next comes watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants."

treefarmer

But of course! Gotta exercise freedumb and threaten without interference when the governor is a democrat and the armed mob is supporting the king.