DOJ Inspector General to Review Federal Law Enforcement Response to Protests

In this July 20, 2020 file photo Federal agents use crowd control munitions to disperse Black Lives Matter protesters at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse in Portland, Ore.

In this July 20, 2020 file photo Federal agents use crowd control munitions to disperse Black Lives Matter protesters at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse in Portland, Ore. AP Photo/Noah Berger,File

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

The move comes as officers the Trump administration deployed to Portland, Oregon draw scrutiny.

The Justice Department’s Inspector General said Thursday that his office has opened an investigation into use of force allegations involving department law enforcement officers responding to demonstrations in Portland, Oregon during July.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz said the investigation is in response to congressional requests, as well as other complaints his office received and a referral from the U.S. Attorney in Oregon. Horowitz said his office will also conduct a review of DOJ’s roles and responsibilities responding to protests and civil unrest in both Portland and Washington, D.C. over the past two months.

In recent days, the Trump administration has come under scrutiny for deploying federal officers clad in camouflage uniforms and equipped with riot-control gear to Portland. The administration has defended these actions as necessary to protect federal property there, in particular a federal courthouse, from assaults by “violent anarchists.”

But state and local officials in Oregon, including Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, say that the presence of the federal officers has inflamed the situation. Heavy-handed tactics by the officers and their use of unmarked vehicles to detain people have drawn widespread criticism, as has their lack of name tags.

Protests over police brutality and other issues have gone on now for about eight weeks in Portland, at times turning chaotic, with clashes between demonstrators and law enforcement.

Wheeler joined the protest crowd on Wednesday and was met with jeers from some protesters and at one point overcome himself by tear gas federal officers fired.

Federal authorities have indicated previously that they would review an incident in early July where a federal officer shot a 26 year-old man who was protesting in the head, seriously injuring him, with an “impact munition” that was designed to be non-lethal.

There have been several lawsuits filed over the deployment of the federal officers in Portland, including one brought by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. That suit claims that federal officers are violating protesters’ constitutional rights in a number of ways.

The American Civil Liberties Union has also filed at least two lawsuits over how police and federal agents have responded to the protests. A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order Thursday to restrict their interactions with reporters and legal observers, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

Even as Oregon officials raised concerns about the actions of federal officers, Trump in recent days has threatened to deploy more of them to other cities and on Wednesday announced that he would be sending agents to Chicago to help deal with violent crime there.

Trump said this effort by the Justice Department, dubbed Operation Legend, would also send officers from various federal agencies to Albuquerque, New Mexico, Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee. 

While Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, has objected to Trump threatening to deploy officers to his state, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm on Thursday told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he largely saw the effort as basically a rebranding of an existing federal law enforcement effort.  

“We’re all going to watch that very closely and make sure the assets are going toward what they are supposed to, which is addressing our surge in violent crime,” Chisholm said.

The president's emphasis on law enforcement in cities comes as he is running for reelection against Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden, and as the coronavirus outbreak has upended the nation's economy and claimed over 140,000 lives across the U.S.

Horowitz said his review of the protest response in Portland and D.C. would examine issues such as training and instruction provided to officers, their compliance with identification requirements and adherence to policies for using certain weapons and force.

A June 1 episode where authorities cleared protesters from Lafayette Square, near the White House, before Trump moved through that area for a photo opportunity at a church, would be reviewed in conjunction with the Interior Department, Horowitz also said.

Bill Lucia is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.

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