The U.S. attorney in Oregon has requested an investigation of federal law enforcement agents following recent clashes between federal agents and demonstrators protesting police brutality in Portland.
The request comes in the wake of threats by President Donald Trump to override local authorities in cities he described as "war zones" run by "liberal left-wing Democrats." The agents deployed in Portland this week were part of a Department of Homeland Security task force established to respond to the growing protests and acts of civil disobedience that came after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
"They just want to destroy our country," Trump said Thursday. "We're not going to let it happen. We're not letting it happen."
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security, took to Twitter early Friday to accuse Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler of having "encouraged and aided" violence in his own city after Wheeler called for an end to the administration's "heightened troop presence."
Wheeler doubled down in a press conference Friday afternoon asking for Trump to remove the troops: "Keep your troops in your own buildings, or have them leave our city."
Cuccinelli told "Fox and Friends" on Friday morning the agency is prepared to send more federal agents "to places like Portland," even without a request from local authorities. Certain DHS agents typically protect federal buildings, like courthouses, where Cuccinelli said the department may need to surge personnel.
He went on to suggest that local officials have directly enabled violent protesters.
"This is not just random where these violent rioters go," he said. "And it's probably not a coincidence that the local government is willing to let them attack the federal government because they support them."
The Homeland Security Office of Inspector General has already launched one inquiry into possible misuse of force by federal agents after reports surfaced last week that a demonstrator had been shot in the head with a nonlethal munition.
A video circulated widely online this week showed agents pulling up to arrest a demonstrator in what appeared to be an unmarked van. They were later identified as Border Patrol agents operating as part of an extended federal mandate by the Trump administration to crack down on contentious protests.
"Based on news accounts circulating that allege federal law enforcement detained two protestors without probable cause, I have requested the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General to open a separate investigation directed specifically at the actions of DHS personnel," U.S. Attorney Billy Williams said in a statement.
Customs and Border Protection said the person seen taken into custody in the viral video was suspected of a prior crime.
"[CBP] agents had information indicating the person in the video was suspected of assaults against federal agents or destruction of federal property," CBP spokesperson Stephanie Malin said in a statement.
The person who was detained was questioned and let go with no charges filed, according to a CBP official.
Jann Carson with the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon called the incident a "kidnapping."
"What is happening now in Portland should concern everyone in the United States," Carson said in a statement. "Usually when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street we call it kidnapping."
ACLU lawyers said they would attempt to secure a restraining order against federal law enforcement responding to demonstrations. If granted, the order would prevent federal authorities from removing journalists or legal observers from protest areas.
"It has not shocked us, but there's been a shameful response by law enforcement in both Portland and across the country engaged in a backlash against these protests," said Oregon ACLU's Kelly Simon.
The lawyer's complaint aims to build on a similar order requiring Portland police to have probable cause of a committed crime before arresting or using force against protest observers and journalists.
When federal agents are deployed outside their normal duties, CBP generally refrains from disclosing specifics about how many are sent to each area.
"Personnel deployed have specialized training for operations in chaotic environments such as the ones we have recently faced across the country," a CBP spokesperson said in a statement.
This report was featured in the Monday, July 20, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.
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