Work crews Sunday re-erected a security fence and concrete dividers outside the federal courthouse in downtown Portland on Sunday, three days after it had been removed.
The U.S. Department of Justice decided the fence was removed prematurely after people continued to break windows and spray paint graffiti on the courthouse building the last several nights.
Officials overseeing the return of the fence said it had been 15 miles out of Portland, on a truck headed to Washington, D.C., when the truck was directed to return to Portland.
Eight courthouse windows were broken and graffiti was scrawled on the building Saturday night, after other windows were smashed Thursday night, according to federal officials.
Among the graffiti left on the front of the courthouse was a message that said in red, “NAZI’S WORK HERE.”
“As a first generation American whose parents lived through the horrors of World War II, in England and in Norway, you can’t say anything more offensive than alleging that the people who work inside that building ,who I know and love, are Nazis,” Acting U.S. Attorney Scott Asphaug said Sunday.
“That building represents justice,” he said. “This is where people come to have their civil rights heard.”
The staff, attorneys and judges have continued to conduct courthouse operations throughout the past year’s mass protests, and will continue to do so undeterred, Asphaug said. Asphaug said he supports the rights of people to protest and make their voices heard but doesn’t support riotous behavior and the damage to the courthouse.
“The people who work in that building are a lot stronger than graffiti and broken windows,” he said, “and they’ll continue to do the important work they do.”
The Federal Protective Service, working with city of Portland and federal agencies, on Thursday made the decision to remove the protective fence around the federal courthouse “in collaboration with local leaders from Portland as part of a broader effort to help the city return to normalcy,” said Robert Sperling, a spokesman with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, on Friday.
The Federal Protective Service “will continue to fulfill its mandate of ensuring the safety and security of federal employees and facilities, while maintaining our commitment to working with the City of Portland and the community as part of a collective effort to restore the downtown area,” Sperling said by email.
Later Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Marshals Service took over jurisdiction of the fence, and officials said then it would be put back up either Sunday or Monday.
Oregon’s U.S. District Chief Judge Marco A. Hernandez on Sunday declined comment about the damage to the courthouse.
The federal courthouse became the focal point of mass social justice demonstrations that began after the May 25 death of George Floyd, who died after he was pinned under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer now on trial for his death.
Construction workers on Thursday morning had removed concrete highway dividers and fencing from the western, public entrance side of the federal courthouse. By early afternoon, 20 to 30 demonstrators, mostly dressed in black, vandalized the front entrance, breaking a large window, according to the Federal Protective Service.
As a result, work crews put plywood and wooden boards back up to protect the building’s windows and fau00e7ade in anticipation of a second demonstration that night. About 9:30 p.m. Thursday, protesters returned to the courthouse and several took down plywood from the courthouse’s western entrance, started a fire, broke windows and spray-painted graffiti on the outside, according to Micah Coring, a Federal Protective Service agent.
Officers from the U.S. Marshals Service and Federal Protective Service fired tear gas, flash-bang and smoke grenades to push Thursday night’s crowd away from the courthouse in scenes reminiscent of last summer’s nightly violent clashes outside and around the court building.
Thursday’s demonstration apparently started out as a protest against the expansion of an oil pipeline, known as Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 pipeline, that would bring tar sands oil from the Canadian province of Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin. Protesters say the line would run along delicate wetlands and the treaty territory of Native American tribal land of the Anishinaabe peoples.
On Saturday night, eight more courthouse windows were smashed, federal officials said. No federal officers emerged from the courthouse Saturday night.
Through early February, the cost of cleaning up vandalism and repairing the courthouse had added up to $1.6 million.
The bill goes up to a total of about $2.3 million if adding in four other federal properties, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In addition to the courthouse, the Edith Green-Wendall Wyatt Federal Building, the Gus J. Solomon U.S. Courthouse, the Pioneer Courthouse and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building also have damaged and have undergone repair.