Federal Agents in Portland Repeatedly Attacked Clearly-Marked Journalists and Legal Observers in Violation of Court Order

July 28, 2020

PORTLAND — The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon today asked a federal court to sanction and hold in contempt federal agents with the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Marshals Service for violating a temporary restraining order barring unconstitutional attacks on journalists and legal observers in Portland, Oregon. The ACLU is also urging the court to order Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli to personally appear before the court and show cause as to why they should not be sanctioned for contempt.

The ACLU of Oregon secured the restraining order last week as part of a lawsuit it filed on behalf of journalists and legal observers who were targeted and attacked by federal agents at the Portland protests.

“Attorney General Barr in written testimony before Congress today declared that the 'most basic responsibility of government is to ensure the rule of law.' Willfully violating a court order protecting our constitutional rights is not ensuring the rule of law — it is, by any objective measure, an assault on our democracy and system of checks and balances. The administration must be held accountable for its lawlessness,” said Matthew Borden, ACLU of Oregon cooperating counsel and partner at BraunHagey & Borden LLP.

In its motion for contempt and sanctions today, the ACLU requests the court to order each federal agent who violated the restraining order to be identified, personally appear, and be prohibited from engaging in armed operations in Portland.

"This administration claims to be defending the federal courthouse, but won't obey the orders coming out of it. What purpose are these agents actually serving then?” said Kelly Simon, interim legal director of the ACLU of Oregon.

Videos, photos, and accounts reveal that hours after the court issued the restraining order, and every night since, federal agents have targeted and attacked journalists and legal observers, including a plaintiff in the ACLU’s lawsuit.

“I was clearly marked as a member of the press and was standing by myself,” said Kathryn Elsesser, a freelance photographer who was on assignment for Agence France-Presse (AFP) when federal agents attacked her on July 25. “Suddenly, without warning or reason, I felt a hard, searing, burning pain in the back of my arm. A federal agent had shot me from across the street with some type of bullet. I met multiple other photojournalists that night who were similarly attacked despite being clearly labeled as press.”

Hours after the court issued the restraining order in the ACLU’s lawsuit, federal agents shot reporter Jonathan Levinson’s while he was photographing federal officers. Levinson was clearly marked as press and no protesters were near him when he was shot. The same night, federal agents also shot reporter Rebecca Ellis and separately prevented her from documenting their dispersal of protesters.

In subsequent nights, the attacks on legal observers and members of the press continued. Federal agents deliberately sprayed mace into the faces of multiple clearly-marked legal observers at point blank range and shot another clearly-marked legal observer directly in her chest with a rubber bullet from four feet away.

The ACLU has filed multiple lawsuits across the country in response to unconstitutional law enforcement attacks on journalists and protesters, including suing President Trump and other administration officials for firing tear gas on protesters outside the White House on June 1. The ACLU of Oregon is also suing federal and local law enforcement in Portland for attacking medics providing aid to individuals at the protests. A hearing scheduled in the lawsuit on behalf of medics is scheduled for Thursday, July 30.

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