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Federal officers in Portland can't targeting journalists, legal observers for arrest, judge rules

Written by on July 24, 2020

A federal judge on Thursday barred federal agents in Portland from dispersing, arresting, threatening to arrest, or using force against journalists or legal observers.

U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon issued the 14-day temporary order following a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, which cited statements from journalists and legal observers who said they had been targeted by authorities.

Federal agents said they had been protecting government property from protesters and that journalists were incidentally caught up in their efforts to stop the violence, but Simon said indications suggested otherwise.

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“Plaintiffs’ declarations describe situations including that they were identifiable as press, were not engaging in unlawful activity or protesting, were not standing near protesters, and yet were subject to violence by federal agents,” Simon wrote. “Contrary to the Federal Defendants’ arguments, this evidence does not support that the force used on Plaintiffs were ‘unintended consequences’ of crowd control.”

The order also states that federal officers cannot unlawfully seize any photographic equipment, recording equipment, or press passes from people they reasonably should know is a journalist or legal observer.

Federal officers, however, won’t be liable for unintentional violations of the court order. An example is if a journalist or legal observer remains in an area and becomes “incidentally exposed to crowd-control devices” after officers give a lawful order to leave.

The judge wrote that any “willful violation” of the order or any direction by a federal supervisor or commander to disregard or violate it will be considered a violation of “a clearly established constitutional right,” meaning they won’t be protected by qualified immunity.

PORTLAND BANS POLICE FROM WORKING WITH FEDERAL LAW ENFORCEMENT

Attorney Andrew Warden of the U.S Department of Justice had argued that federal officers can’t stop to figure out who’s a member of the press or a legal observer when fireworks were being shot at them or lasers were shined in their eyes, according to The Oregonian.

He added that agents need to make quick decisions and it would be too hard to determine who the peaceful protesters from violent ones, the paper reported.

The temporary restraining order for federal officers echoes a similar granted earlier this month by the judge, which blocked Portland Police from arresting or using physical force against journalists or legal observers — unless they “reasonably know” that person has committed a crime.

Federal agents use crowd control munitions to disperse Black Lives Matter protesters at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse in Portland, Ore. on July 20, 2020. (Associated Press)

Federal agents use crowd control munitions to disperse Black Lives Matter protesters at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse in Portland, Ore. on July 20, 2020. (Associated Press)

Portland’s City Council also passed new policies this week that will immediately ban all police bureau members from working with federal law enforcement.

Portland has been among the centers on the West Coast for rioting and demonstrations following the May 25 death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. Seattle, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles also have seen frequent protests.

On Thursday, a demonstration in Beverly Hills, Calif., resulted in the arrests of a dozen protesters, including at least one person for an alleged “assault on a police officer,” FOX 11 of Los Angeles reported.

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Officers reportedly gave the group of roughly 75 people disperse orders before surrounding and taking multiple people into custody after the crowd’s “failure to comply,” according to the station.

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