New Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed Against Federal Law Enforcement

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Above photo: Police stand as protesters gather during a demonstration, Thursday, July 16, 2020 in Portland, Ore. Federal officers deployed tear gas and fired less-lethal rounds into a crowd of protesters. The actions came just hours after the head of the Department of Homeland Security called the protesters “violent anarchists.” Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian via AP.

The federal government is facing another lawsuit over its law enforcement activities in Portland.

The Western States Center, the First Unitarian Church of Portland, two state representatives and an ACLU legal observer are listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which alleges the federal government has violated protesters’ 10th Amendment rights. It was filed Tuesday in federal court.

The 10th Amendment delineates the separation of powers between federal and state governments.

“The power to engage in ordinary law enforcement is one of the long-recognized powers that belong to the states and to their municipalities,” said Cliff Davidson, an attorney with Snell & Wilmer, the firm filing the lawsuit.

The Western States Center, an Oregon-based activism group, alleges that the arrival of federal law enforcement reversed progress the organization had made in de-escalating conflict between the Portland Police Bureau and protesters. The organization said, as a result, it has had to expend significant resources to mitigate the harm caused by federal officers.

The Unitarian Church of Portland has a protest witness group that has been monitoring demonstrations. Its members allege participation has dropped notably since federal officers started making arrests on Portland city streets.

“There was not a similar drop when Portland Police Bureau maintained their role as the police in Portland, and federal law enforcement limited itself to protecting federal facilities and personnel,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also raises a First Amendment claim on behalf of the church.

“Government is infringing on its ability to freely exercise its religion which is guaranteed under the First Amendment,” Davidson said. “By making it unsafe and too frightening to protest, the federal government is denying them part of their religious and spiritual practice.”

Sara Eddie, an ACLU legal observer since May 26, also said she will no longer volunteer at protests unless the court acts to restrict federal policing on Portland city streets.

Oregon state Reps. Janelle Bynum and Karin Power, chair and vice-chair of the Oregon House Judiciary Committee, claim that the federal law enforcement presence has frustrated their ability as legislators to set state law enforcement policies applicable to their districts and the state.

The plaintiffs are requesting an injunction preventing federal law enforcement from engaging in policing activities except in the immediate vicinity of federal property or personnel. Such an injunction would allow exemptions for imminent threats.

The latest lawsuit joins a number of others that have been filed since it became known federal officers were using unmarked vehicles to arrest protesters, with little to no explanation.

The ACLU of Oregon filed a lawsuit seeking to restrain how federal law enforcement interacts with journalists and legal observers at protests.

The Oregon Department of Justice also has sued federal agencies over civil rights violations, and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said state prosecutors may pursue criminal charges against the federal officer who shot and severely injured a protester July 12.