Portland protesters filed a lawsuit against President Trump and the Homeland Security Department on Wednesday, saying the deployment of additional federal officers to quell attacks on the federal courthouse was illegal and unconstitutional.
The lawsuit, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, says acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf isn’t legally holding that job, so his move to send in more officers was illegal.
And the ACLU says the officers went beyond their powers in straying beyond the courthouse grounds and “snatching protesters off the street.”
The lawsuit asks a federal judge to rule the deployment and officers’ actions illegal and unconstitutional, and to award damages for injuries protesters say they suffered because of the additional federal personnel.
“Protesting is supposed to be the bedrock of democracy, but when protests are about Black lives, it is shut down,” said Shanice Clarke, a member of the Black Millennial Movement and one of the protester plaintiffs. “Our government should not have come here to suppress this movement.”
Portland has been rocked by violent riots since late May, days after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked national soul-searching on race and policing.
The federal courthouse in the city’s downtown became a target of protests and, by July, of nearly nightly attempts to breach a security fence and light fires, smash windows and otherwise damage the structure.
The building is usually protected by U.S. Marshals, who are part of the Justice Department, and by the Federal Protective Service, which is part of Homeland Security. Federal officials asked local authorities to help protect the building but state and local leaders ordered police not to assist.
Mr. Wolf then sent in Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to help out, saying they are trained in crowd control situations for their regular duties.
Attacks on the courthouse intensified, and after negotiations, Gov. Kate Brown agreed to deploy state police, and protesters began to police themselves, with some even putting out fires started by others in the crowds.
The federal courthouse has been mostly quiet for three weeks, but riots continue elsewhere, with local police now taking the brunt of anger from a couple hundred committed protesters who return each night.
Mr. Trump has urged Ms. Brown to ask for the National Guard to step in.
In the new lawsuit, the ACLU says Mr. Trump was at the root of the deployment of Homeland Security personnel, including his June 26 executive order directing Homeland Security to take more steps to protect federal statues, monuments and property.
The ACLU complained that Mr. Trump’s order was a defense of “racist monuments and institutions” and an attack on “individuals who seek to dismantle them.”
The lawsuit’s complaint that Mr. Wolf is illegally in the acting secretary’s job stems from a complicated chain of events that led to him being elevated.
The Government Accountability Office earlier this month ruled that his predecessor, acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan, wasn’t properly installed in the job in 2019. And it was Mr. McAleenan who wrote a memo laying out a new chain of succession that elevated Mr. Wolf once Mr. McAleenan left.
Homeland Security has issued a blistering rebuttal to the GAO, saying the report was prepared by a low-level lawyer who has worked as a Democratic Party operative, and saying it ignored key evidence that shows Mr. McAleenan was properly installed.