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ACLU: U.S. agents targeted journalists in Portland despite court order

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Members of the &#039;Wall of Moms&#039; protest group lock arms as they are tear-gassed by federal officers during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse Monday, July 27, 2020, in Portland, Ore.
Members of the 'Wall of Moms' protest group lock arms as they are tear-gassed by federal officers during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse Monday, July 27, 2020, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) Photo Gallery

PORTLAND — Militarized U.S. agents in Portland have continued to attack journalists and legal observers with riot-control munitions, despite a federal court order for them to stop, the ACLU of Oregon told the court Tuesday.

Last week, the U.S. District Court in Portland — located in the same federal court building that has been the focus of protests — temporarily blocked federal officers from targeting journalists and legal observers at the protests.

In a motion, the ACLU asked the court Tuesday to sanction and hold in contempt federal agents with the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Marshals Service for violating the temporary restraining order. It also asked the court to order Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Under Secretary Ken Cuccinelli to personally appear and show why they should not be sanctioned for contempt.

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon cited numerous instances in which the federal agents have violated the order by firing impact munitions and using pepper spray against people who were clearly marked as press or legal observers.

The motion was filed after Attorney General William Barr appeared in Congress and defended the aggressive federal law enforcement response to civil unrest, saying “violent rioters and anarchists have hijacked legitimate protests” sparked by George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

The ACLU accused federal agents of acting unlawfully in Portland.

“This administration claims to be defending the federal courthouse, but won’t obey the orders coming out of it. What purpose are these agents actually serving then?” said Kelly Simon, interim legal director of the ACLU of Oregon.

One journalist, Jonathan Levinson of Oregon Public Broadcasting, said in a statement to the court that while he was trying to take a photograph on July 24, he saw a federal agent raise his weapon, aim it at him and fire several rounds.

“My camera and lens were splattered with paint,” said Levinson. “Based on my position and the position of people around me, there is almost no chance the agent was aiming at anyone other than me.”

Levinson, who has covered conflicts all over the world and was deployed to Iraq as a U.S. Army officer, said he was wearing a press pass and a helmet that says “PRESS” in big letters on the front and back.

Kat Mahoney, a legal observer with the ACLU, said a federal agent fired a paintball at her, hitting her in the head on July 24. The next night, an agent sprayed her and three other observers in the face as they told him they were legal observers and pointed to their credentials.

There was no immediate comment from the federal agencies on the motion and accusations.

Two groups protesting U.S. agents sent to Portland by President Donald Trump have also sued. The lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security alleges it violated the Constitution by sending federal law enforcement to disperse crowds with tear gas and rubber bullets.

The Wall of Moms — a group of self-described mothers — and the Don’t Shoot Portland group filed the lawsuit late Monday against Wolf and other federal officials. The agency did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment about the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.

Members of the group of mothers have “been tear-gassed night after night, left vomiting and unable to eat or sleep because of the toxic poison blasted at them,” the lawsuit said.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty late Monday asked Wolf for a meeting to discuss a cease-fire and their desire for the removal of the extra federal agents deployed to Portland.

U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy J. Williams insisted Monday that the agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Federal Protective service will remain in Portland as long protesters continue attacking the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse continue.

Protesters have tried almost every night to tear down a fence erected to protect the building, set fires in the street and hurled fireworks, Molotov cocktails and bricks, rocks and bottles at the agents inside.

Protesters filled the streets again into the early hours Tuesday, gathering for the 60th night on the city block where the courthouse is located. They were met with tear gas, pepper balls and stun grenades fired by the federal agents guarding the building.