President Trump threatened to implement the Insurrection Act to quell protests. What are the limits to his power and could he implement martial law?
Federal law enforcement officers have used unmarked vehicles to detain protesters in Portland, according to news reports.
Videos shared online show officers driving up to people, detaining them without explanation, then driving off, Oregon Public Broadcastingfirst reported.
Mark Pettibone, 29, told the Washington Post and OPB that he was among those protesters grabbed off the streets of Portland. Pettibone said he was heading home from a protest with a friend early Wednesday morning when several men in green military fatigues jumped out of an unmarked gray van.
“I was terrified,” Pettibone told the Post. “It seemed like it was out of a horror/sci-fi, like a Philip K. Dick novel. It was like being preyed upon.”
He said officers placed him in a holding cell in a federal courthouse, where he was read his Miranda rights. After Pettibone, who did not respond to calls from USA TODAY, declined to answer questions, he was released, he told the Post.
In a statement Friday, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed that it detained a protester but disputed accounts that it did so without explanation. The agency, which did not name Pettibone, said agents had information about a person suspected of assaulting federal agents or destroying federal property.
“Once CBP agents approached the suspect, a large and violent mob moved towards their location. For everyone’s safety, CBP agents quickly moved the suspect to a safer location for further questioning,” the department said, adding that agents identified themselves and were wearing the agency’s insignia.
The statement did not address the use of unmarked vans.
Protests in Oregon’s largest city following the police killing of George Floyd have continued for 47 days. The Trump administration has sent federal officers from multiple agencies to the city, and tensions escalated after an officer with the U.S. Marshals Service fired a less-lethal round at a protester’s head on July 11, critically injuring him.
The heavy federal presence has drawn criticisms from Democratic lawmakers, local leaders and civil rights groups.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, compared the unidentified federal officers to a “secret police force.” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, called the incident involving Pettibone “chilling,” and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, described it as “authoritarian.”
Merkley and other lawmakers from Oregon are asking the inspectors general of the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security to investigate, decrying the “unrequested presence and violent actions” of federal officers in Portland.
“The jarring reports of federal law enforcement officers grabbing peaceful protesters off the street should alarm every single American. This is not the way a government operates in a functioning democracy,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, said in a statement.
The American Civil Liberties Union called the incident “flat-out unconstitutional” and said it is looking at what actions to take.
“Usually when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street we call it kidnapping — what is happening now in Portland should concern everyone in the US,” the group said.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Border Patrol agents have been deployed to Portland to protect federal property amid ongoing protests.
“While the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) respects every American’s right to protest peacefully, violence and civil unrest will not be tolerated. Violent anarchists have organized events in Portland over the last several weeks with willful intent to damage and destroy federal property, as well as injure federal officers and agents. These criminal actions will not be tolerated,” the agency said.
However, officers appeared to detain people who weren’t near federal property, and it isn’t clear that all of those being arrested had committed a crime, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.
“If media reports of their actions are accurate, federal officers arresting Oregonians without probable cause is extraordinarily concerning and a violation of their civil liberties and constitutional rights,” said Charles Boyle, deputy communications director for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.
On Thursday night, federal officers fired rounds and deployed tear gas to break up a crowd of a few hundred people gathered near the federal courthouse, according to The Oregonian. Some protesters remained in the area early Friday and were detained, but it was unclear how many arrests were made by either Portland police or federal officers, the newspaper reported.
President Donald Trump declared victory at a news conference on Monday, praising efforts by federal officers to address violence in the city, which he said was “totally out of control.”
“We’ve done a great job in Portland,” Trump said. “I guess, we have many people right now in jail, and we very much quelled it. And if it starts again, we’ll quell it again very easily. It’s not hard to do if you know what you’re doing.”
Brown, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and other local leaders have said they didn’t ask for help from federal law enforcement and have asked them to leave.
“We’re aware that they’re here,” Wheeler said on Twitter. “We wish they weren’t.”
Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf also drew criticism from local leaders when he visited the city Thursday hours after calling the protesters “violent anarchists.”
“I told Acting Secretary Wolf that the federal government should remove all federal officers from our streets. His response showed me he is on a mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes,” Brown said in a tweet. “He is putting both Oregonians and local law enforcement officers in harm’s way.”
In tweets over the past weeks, Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan said Border Patrol agents were assaulted by protesters who threw rocks and used baseball bats to break down the doors of the federal courthouse in Portland. Morgan said the agents “deployed less than lethal force.”
“Criminals, armed with weapons, continue to organize attacks on Federal property in Portland,” Morgan tweeted Thursday, echoing the president’s language. The Trump administration “is committed to supporting law enforcement officers, maintaining law & order, and protecting Americans.”
Contributing: The Associated Press
Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg
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