DHS Chief Says Feds Suffered 'Chemical Burns, Bloody Wounds' In Portland

Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf used his opening statement in a congressional hearing on his department's controversial deployment of federal law enforcement to Portland to defend the actions of his officers and lash out at critics who have branded them "'stormtroopers,' the 'Gestapo' and 'thugs.'"

In his opening statement, which was published online on the day of the U.S. Senate Committee On Homeland Security And Governmental Affairs hearing on Thursday, Wolf thanked committee members for the opportunity to testify on the deployment, which began with federal officers being sent to Portland over the July 4th weekend to protect federal property amid protests following the death of George Floyd.

"For over 40 years, the Federal Protective Service (FPS) has protected federal property around the country," Wolf said in his opening statement. "They have done so with little fanfare or recognition—largely because of the cooperative relationships they have with state and local law enforcement."

Noting that Congress directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to "protect the buildings, grounds, and property that are owned, occupied, or secured by the Federal Government, and the persons on the property" in U.S. code, Wolf said "this statute leaves no room for interpretation—inaction is not an option for DHS."

While it is within the DHS's mandate to protect federal property, demonstrators in Portland, as well as local and state officials, have accused federal officers of using excessive force and questionable tactics in enforcing federal law in the Oregon city.

With nightly clashes between federal officers and demonstrators that spanned for almost a month and instances of demonstrators suffering serious injuries and being forced into unmarked vans by officers, the DHS had faced widespread calls from Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to leave the city.

During his opening statement, Wolf said that federal officers were carrying out their "statutory mission" in Portland, where, he said "for more than 60 days, violent criminals, opportunists and anarchists have attacked the federal seat of justice in Portland, Oregon: the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse."

Wolf accused elected officials and members of the media of trying to "smear our law enforcement officers, who are performing their jobs valiantly and consistent with the law and use of tactics and procedures."

"They have called our law enforcement professionals 'stormtroopers,' the 'Gestapo' and 'thugs.' These are offensive and irresponsible terms," he said.

Meanwhile Wolf said federal law enforcement received "no assistance from state and local law enforcement in Portland." Instead, "they were left to defend the courthouse besieged by attempts of arson and constant destruction," he said.

"This circumstance should never have happened," Wolf said. "Local law enforcement should have partnered with DHS at the earliest possible moment."

Over the course of the deployment, Wolf said, federal officers were "assaulted with, among other weapons, mortar-style commercial grade fireworks, accelerants, IEDs, sledgehammers, concrete, and slingshots."

The DHS chief said officers suffered serious injuries, including "chemical burns, bloody wounds, and attacks with blinding lasers, leaving some of our colleagues with eye injuries."

Between the dates of July 4 to 31, federal officers and agents, he said, suffered a combined total of 277 injuries.

One FPS inspector, he said suffered third degree burns from a commercial grade firework, which burned through his uniform and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

At least 142 DHS officers reported suffering "minor burns, lacerations, being hit over the head with a sledgehammer, or hearing issues resulting from the fireworks," Wolf said.

At least 113 reported eye injuries, "many due to being targeted with commercial grade laser devices causing 'momentary-blindness, blurred vision, dark spots in their vision and headaches.'"

Meanwhile, Wolf noted: "The security fence we installed to protect the Courthouse and our officers has been repeatedly attacked with power tools in a dangerous attempt to topple the barrier."

Wolf accused elected officials and members of the media of trying to "smear our law enforcement officers, who are performing their jobs valiantly and consistent with the law and use of tactics and procedures."

"They have called our law enforcement professionals 'stormtroopers,' the 'Gestapo' and 'thugs.' These are offensive and irresponsible terms," he said.

Wolf's testimony comes just days after federal and Oregon authorities reached an agreement for the DHS to start withdrawing federal officers from Portland.

In the wake of the agreement, peaceful protests have unfolded in downtown Portland with a marked decrease in reports of violence.

Chad Wolf
Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf arrives for an event about 'Operation Legend' in the East Room of the White House July 22, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Wolf says federal law enforcement officers suffered serious injuries during their deployment to Portland, Oregon. Chip Somodevilla/Getty