Two groups and five individual plaintiffs today filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., against the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies that have taken action against protesters in downtown Portland.
The lawsuit, first reported by The Washington Post, alleges that various federal agencies—including DHS, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Federal Protective Services, the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Customs and Border Protection—have gone far beyond their stated task of protecting federal buildings from damage.
Rather than defending the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse and the Edith Green-Wendell O. Wyatt Federal Building, the lawsuit says, the federal officials are pursuing a political agenda, with the aid of tear gas, rubber bullets, various munitions, batons and the alleged snatching of citizens in unmarked rental vehicles.
"Defendants' statements, a recently revealed DHS memorandum and the conduct of DHS officers on the ground far from the federal courthouse make clear that Operation Diligent Valor actually furthers a separate DHS policy: to intimidate and silence protesters because of their message."
At its heart, the lawsuit claims federal officials deprived protesters of their constitutional rights to free speech, free assembly and due process, and their freedom from unreasonable seizures.
President Donald Trump, the lawsuit says, is attempting to illegally use the various involved federal agencies to create a "national police force" not authorized by the U.S. Constitution.
The federal forces deployed to Portland, the lawsuit says, "used violence in an effort to stamp out peaceful and constitutionally protected protests."
Today's lawsuit follows earlier legal attempts to rein in federal officials. The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon convinced U.S. District Judge Michael Simon to order police to stop interfering with media and official legal observers working at the protests. Simon's colleague, Judge Michael Mosman, rebuffed a subsequent lawsuit filed by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum that sought a restraining order against the federal forces on the ground in Portland.
Part of Mosman's reasoning in rejecting Rosenblum's motion was that the state of Oregon lacked standing because it was not a participant in the protests and could not demonstrate a pattern of unlawful conduct by the feds.
In addition to seeking a different venue—the Washington D.C. District—today's lawsuit, filed by the Perkins Coie law firm with help from the Protect Democracy Project, represents the interest of groups and individuals who have direct involvement in the actions they want the court to stop: Four of the five named plaintiffs, Beverley Barnum, Sabrina Cerquera, Demetria Hester, and Danialle James, say they have regularly protested and been exposed to the feds' tactics. (A fifth plaintiff, Dr. Lisa Kipersztok, says the feds have violated her rights by using tactics that make her afraid to continue protesting.)
Those individuals—as well as Don't Shoot Portland and the Wall of Moms—are seeking injunctive relief from the feds' alleged unconstitutional actions and unspecified damages.
A U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson could not be reached for comment.