As Feds Pull Out of Portland, Lawsuits Follow Them

Tensions in Portland, Oregon, began dissipate almost immediately after the Trump administration agreed last week to start withdrawing federal officers deployed to the city amid unrest in the wake of George Floyd's death.

While the nightly clashes between federal law enforcement and protesters that have dominated national headlines for weeks appear to have come to an end, lawsuits launched against the government over officers' actions during the deployment continue to follow the Trump administration.

Speaking with Newsweek on Thursday, Sarah Adams-Schoen, an assistant professor of law at the University of Oregon, said a series of lawsuits launched against the federal government over the controversial intervention, which began over the July 4th weekend, could be useful in the future not only in Portland, but also to other cities in the event of future deployments.

Particularly after President Donald Trump threatened to send a "surge of federal law enforcement" into U.S. cities run by Democrats that he accused of being on an "anti-police crusade," Adams-Schoen said, the legal action taken over the Portland deployment is "still important."

"One of the arguments that the federal government has made is that the lawsuits...are now moot because of the drawdown of federal agents," she said.

Plaintiffs have countered that argument, she said. Adams-Schoen said that federal officers could still ramp up operations in Portland should unrest deepen, as Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf has repeatedly warned over the course of the withdrawal.

In a piece for The Conversation, Adams-Schoen laid out some of the major lawsuits that the federal government faces over its deployment of officers to Portland.

In one case, Index Newspapers, Inc. v. City of Portland, the DHS and U.S. Marshals Service were added to a lawsuit that had been launched on behalf of journalists and legal observers seeking to prevent law enforcement from assaulting them amid the protests.

On July 23, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon shut down the federal government's claims "the force used on Plaintiffs [was] 'unintended consequences' of crowd control".

Siding with journalists and legal observers, he issued a temporary restraining order preventing federal officers from "arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force directed against any person whom they know or reasonably should know is a Journalist or Legal Observer."

The judge further blocked federal officers from "seizing any photographic equipment, audio- or videorecording equipment, or press passes," as well as from ordering journalists "to stop photographing, recording, or observing a protest."

A second lawsuit saw Oregon's Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum sue federal authorities on behalf of the state to prevent officers from arresting and detaining people without probable cause or a warrant.

The lawsuit also demanded that federal agents identify themselves and explicitly state the reason for an arrest or detention after video showed officers approaching a protester and forcing them into an unmarked van, as they appeared to ignore calls from at least one witness to identify themselves.

An effort to immediately block such actions was denied with the judge determining that Rosenblum had not provided sufficient evidence to show that federal officers had demonstrated a pattern of unlawful behavior.

A third case brought forward by the First Unitarian Church of Portland accused federal law enforcement of infringing upon Oregon's sovereign powers to police its own streets.

In that case, plaintiffs cited the 10th Amendment, which enforces the rule that aside from federal powers laid out in the Constitution, all other powers should be held by states and their citizens.

It lawsuit also makes the claim that the deployment violated the First Amendment rights of the First Unitarian Church of Portland, with its religious practices including standing up against injustice.

A fourth lawsuit was launched against the federal government on behalf of medics, who accused police and federal agents of attacking them with "rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, batons and flash-bangs."

Meanwhile, another case launched by activist groups the Wall of Moms and Don't Shoot Portland after Adams-Schoen's piece was published, accused federal officers of violating their free speech, as well as using excessive force.

The lawsuit also accused the DHS of overstepping its bounds, given that Wolf has not been officially confirmed as DHS secretary.

Ultimately, Adams-Schoen told Newsweek, "until it's clear" that the possibility of more federal intervention "is over", plaintiffs are likely to continue to seek court orders to protect those affected by such deployments.

Federal Police clash with protesters in front of the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse in downtown Portland as the city experiences another night of unrest on July 25, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. The federal government agreed to begin withdrawing officers from the city last week. Spencer Platt/Getty