US attorney: Feds will stay in Portland until attacks end

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ANDREW SELSKY and ARON RANEN
Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Federal officers will remain in Portland until attacks on the U.S. courthouse cease, a top official said Monday after a night of violence. And more officers may soon be on the way.

“It is not a solution to tell federal officers to leave when there continues to be attacks on federal property and personnel. We are not leaving the building unprotected to be destroyed by people intent on doing so,” U.S. Attorney Billy Williams told a telephonic news conference.

Local and state officials said the federal officers are unwelcome. The mayor of Portland and five other cities appealed Monday to Congress to make it illegal for the federal government to deploy federal agents to cities that don’t want them.

“This administration’s egregious use of federal force on cities over the objections of local authorities should never happen,” the mayors of Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Kansas City Albuquerque and Washington D.C. wrote to leaders of the U.S. House and Senate.

The mayors want Congress to require consultation with and consent from local authorities before federal deployments; require visible identification at all times on federal agents and vehicles unless on an undercover mission authorized by the local U.S. attorney; and limit federal agents’ activities to protecting federal property. 

However, according to the Department of Homeland Security, “Enforcing federal law is not by invitation.  The FBI, DEA, ATF, and other federal law enforcement agencies do not require local requests from communities to enforce federal law. Federal law clearly states that DHS has the authority to protect federal property and arrest criminals who damage federal property or attack federal officers.”

As for the identification of officers,  according to a DHS press release as well as press briefings, the DHS officers are clearly identifiable as law enforcement officers.

Federal law enforcement officers in Portland and cities across America wear uniforms that clearly identify themselves as “POLICE.” Moreover, all uniforms contain other insignia that identifies their units or team.

In Portland, officers are not wearing name tags because of doxing attacks against law enforcement officers, which threaten the safety of not only our officers but also of their families, the DHS said.

In the absence of individual names, each officer wears a unique identifier.

The city has had nightly protests for two months since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. State and local officials said federal officers are making the situation worse.

 According to numerous published reports, The number of protesters had dwindled to less than 100 until federal officers were deployed to Portland. Now that number has swelled into the thousands.

“On July 3rd, before the surge of DHS law enforcement officers to Portland,” Mayor Wheeler said the violence had “been going on for more than a month now” and called for the “nightly violence” to end,” DHS said.

The Portland Police Department had declared a riot on numerous occasions because of the nightly violence, which occurred well before the federal presence increased in early July.”

Early Monday, U.S. agents repeatedly fired tear gas, flash bangs and pepper balls at protesters outside the federal courthouse in downtown Portland. Some protesters had climbed over the fence surrounding the courthouse, while others shot fireworks, banged on the fence and projected lights on the building.

Trump said Monday on Twitter that the federal properties in Portland “wouldn’t last a day” without the presence of the federal agents.

The majority of those participating in demonstrations during the daytime have been peaceful, although nightly attempts to raze and damage the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse continue, DHS said.

DHS said it made the decision last week to put up a stronger fence around the building’s perimeter. While more secure fencing has kept much of the criminal violence away from the courthouse itself, it has now become a consistent target of the rioters, who constantly are trying to tear it down with ropes, saws, hammers, bolt cutters, and power tools.

“As federal officers left the courthouse to respond to attacks on the fence last night, just like on other nights, rioters responded with hard projectiles, mortar style fireworks and lasers that can cause permanent blindness,” DHS said.

At a press conference with two other federal officials, Williams, whose office is inside the courthouse, called on peaceful protesters, community and business leaders and people of faith to not allow violence to occur in their presence and leave downtown before violence starts. He said federal agents have made 83 arrests.

In cities where there are no federal police, demonstrations in support of racial justice and police reform in other cities around the U.S. were marred by violence over the weekend. Protesters set fire to an Oakland, California, courthouse; vehicles were set ablaze in Richmond, Virginia; an armed protester was shot and killed in Austin, Texas, and two people were shot and wounded in Aurora, Colorado, after a car drove through a protest.

The U.S. Marshals Service has lined up about 100 people they could send, either to strengthen the forces there or relieve officers who have been working for weeks, agency spokesperson Drew Wade said.

Kris Cline, principal deputy director of the Federal Protective Service, told the news conference that an incident commander discusses with Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice teams at the courthouse what force requirements are needed every night.

Cline refused to discuss the number of officers that are currently present or if more are arriving.

Some protesters have accused Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler of hypocrisy for speaking out against the federal presence because, under his watch, Portland police have used tear gas and other riot-control weapons on protesters, including peaceful ones.

Cline said Portland police should take over from the federal officers the job of dispersing protesters from the courthouse area.

“If the Portland Police Bureau were able to do what they typically do, they would be able to clear this out for this disturbance and we would leave our officers inside the building and not be visible,” Cline said.

He said relations between the federal officers, some of whom live in Portland, and Portland police were good, but told reporters he was surprised when the police would not help remove protesters who were blocking an Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in 2018.

Sunday evening, Portland police responded to a shooting at a park close to the site of the overnight protests. Two people were detained and later released, police said Monday morning. The person who was shot went to the hospital in a private vehicle and was treated for a non-life-threatening wound.

Also late Sunday, police said someone pointed out a bag in the same park, where officers found loaded rifle magazines and Molotov cocktails. The shooting was not related to the items, police said. It was not clear whether the shooting or the material found in the bag was connected to the protests.

Associated Press writer Mike Balsamo contributed to this report from Washington. Selsky reported from Salem, Oregon.

Publisher Julie Reeder contributed to this report.