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'Victory for the Rule of Law': Federal Judge Curbs Powers of Trump's Secret Police in Portland

"This injunction is a critical protection for journalists and legal observers exercising their fundamental right to record and observe police activities at these important protests."

Federal officers use tear gas and other crowd dispersal munitions on protesters outside the Multnomah County Justice Center on July 17, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo: Mason Trinca/Getty Images)

Federal officers use tear gas and other crowd dispersal munitions on protesters outside the Multnomah County Justice Center on July 17, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo: Mason Trinca/Getty Images)

A federal judge on Thursday night issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting federal agents that President Donald Trump has deployed to Portland, Oregon from arresting, threatening, or forcibly dispersing journalists and legal observers at ongoing local protests against police brutality.

"We are working to make sure that this unconstitutional nightmare ends in Portland, and is not replicated anywhere else."
—Vera Eidelman, ACLU

Jann Carson, interim executive director of the ACLU of Oregon, declared in a statement Thursday that "this order is a victory for the rule of law."

"Federal agents from Trump's Departments of Homeland Security and Justice are terrorizing the community, threatening lives, and relentlessly attacking journalists and legal observers documenting protests," Carson said. "These are the actions of a tyrant, and they have no place anywhere in America."

U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon's Thursday order restricting agents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Marshals Service came as part of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU Foundation of Oregon, which is representing a Portland newspaper and various reporters and observers. Though the case initially focused on local law enforcement, the ACLU added the federal agencies last week. Earlier this month, Simon issued an order imposing similar restrictions on the city of Portland.

Simon on Thursday barred (pdf) federal agents from "seizing any photographic equipment, audio- or video- recording equipment, or press passes from any person whom they know or reasonably should know is a journalist or legal observer... or ordering such person to stop photographing, recording, or observing a protest, unless the federal defendants are also lawfully seizing that person consistent with this order."

"The restrictions will last for two weeks. The judge is still considering a longer-lasting injunction against federal law enforcement," Oregon Public Broadcasting reported. "Like the last order, the judge said federal officers should identify legal observers by the green hats, worn by observers from the National Lawyers Guild or blue vests, worn by observers from the ACLU. Journalists should be identified by either a press pass or clothing that identifies them a press."

The ACLU alleges that named plaintiffs in the case who "were wearing high-visibility shirts that said 'PRESS' or 'legal observer'" at the protests were threatened by federal agents, shot with munitions, attacked with tear gas, and, in at least one case, hit by with a stun grenade.

One of the plaintiffs, freelance photographer Mathieu Lewis-Rolland, shared his experience being shot by federal agents in a series of tweets that include video footage:

According to OPB:

Simon's decision was expected. Earlier in the day, during a hearing on the order, Simon said he was inclined to side with the plaintiffs, pointing to recent news reports of federal officers infringing on the rights of protesters: Chris David, a Navy veteran who was beaten with batons by federal officers as he tried to speak with them, and Donavan La Bella, who was shot in the head with an impact munition while holding a speaker above his head.

"Those people were not journalists—I get that. There's no allegations those people were journalists and any allegation they were legal observers," Simon said. "But I do think it's critically important that journalists and legal observers have the opportunity to see these things."

Matthew Borden, pro bono counsel for the ACLU Foundation of Oregon and partner at BraunHagey & Borden LLP, said Thursday that "this injunction is a critical protection for journalists and legal observers exercising their fundamental right to record and observe police activities at these important protests, and it's a victory for the nation's right to receive a full account of these events."

The win came just a day after the state arm of the ACLU sued the Trump administration for assaulting, tear-gassing, and arresting volunteer medics in Portland. That case—one of multiple other legal challenges that conditions in the Oregon city have provoked over the past week—is still pending before a federal court.

Despite the national outcry over federal agents' conduct in Portland and calls from city and state elected officials to withdraw, Trump has not only maintained a federal presence in Portland but also threatened to replicate the crackdown in other U.S. cities. The administration sent a tactical team to Seattle on Thursday.

"The Trump administration is deploying federal agents around the country in a senseless and brutal attempt to silence dissent," said Vera Eidelman, staff attorney with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. "We are working to make sure that this unconstitutional nightmare ends in Portland, and is not replicated anywhere else."

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