The ACLU asked a federal judge on Tuesday to hold the top brass at the Department of Homeland Security in contempt of court after federal agents used chemical agents and other means to clear protesters from around a courthouse in Portland, catching journalists in the crossfire.
A federal judge in Oregon last week issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting agents from targeting journalists and legal observers amid the clashes between rioters and police. In new court filings, the American Civil Liberties Union catalogued at least eight journalists and observers they said have been maced, shot with pepper balls or otherwise assaulted in the week since the court order.
The ACLU said a judge should call acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad F. Wolf and acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli before the court to explain themselves.
And the group asked for a “complete ban” on use of less lethal crowd-dispersal tactics anywhere in Oregon.
Kathryn Elsesser, a freelance photographer, said in a statement from the ACLU that she was marked as press while covering the protests 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,” she said.
The court filing includes a photo of a nasty bruise sustained by Haley Nicholson, a law student who says she was acting as a legal observer, wearing a hat marking her as such, when she was shot by a rubber bullet.
She says a federal agent fired at her heart, in violation of the manufacturer’s recommendations.
“If the agents who shot, pepper-sprayed and intimidated journalists above have proven one thing, it is that they cannot be trusted to carry firearms of any type,” the ACLU said in its new filing. “In the five nights since this court issued its TRO, they have managed to shoot at least eight clearly marked journalists and legal observers, one on multiple occasions.”
The Washington Times has reached out to Homeland Security for a response.
The department has deployed dozens of officers and agents to secure the federal courthouse in downtown Portland after it became the focus of nightly attacks. Attorney General William Barr said Tuesday that federal forces were needed because Portland officials have refused to deploy their own police to protect the building.
He said the courthouse would have been burned to the ground had the federal agents not responded.