US judge restrains federal officers from targeting reporters, legal observers
A federal judge on Thursday temporarily prohibited federal agents in Portland from dispersing, arresting, threatening to arrest, or targeting force against journalists or legal observers at protests.
U.S. District Judge Michael Simon issued the temporary restraining order in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. It adds the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Marshals Service to an existing injunction barring Portland police from targeting journalists and legal observers at Portland protests.
"This order is a victory for the rule of law," said Jann Carson, interim executive director of the ACLU of Oregon. "Federal agents from Trump's Departments of Homeland Security and Justice are terrorizing the community, threatening lives, and relentlessly attacking journalists and legal observers documenting protests. These are the actions of a tyrant, and they have no place anywhere in America."
Under the order, federal agents also cannot unlawfully seize any photographic equipment, audio- or video-recording equipment, or press passes from journalists and legal observers, or order journalists or legal observers to stop photographing, recording, or observing a protest, the ACLU said.
The ACLU of Oregon has also filed a lawsuit against homeland security, the marshals service, and the city of Portland for targeting volunteer street medics. That case is currently pending before a federal court.
Simon said he was inclined to issue the restraining order at the close of July 23 afternoon hearing on the request.
Simon said the free press is the guardian of democracy and the independent judiciary is the guardian of the free press.
Before ending the hearing, Simon said he was inclined to side with the plaintiffs. He pointed to recent new reports of protesters being injured and having their rights infringed by federal agents: Chris David, a Navy Veteran who was beaten with batons by federal agents as he tried to speak with the officers; Donavan La Bella, who was shot in the head with an impact munition while holding a speaker above his head; Mark Pettibone, who was detained in an unmarked minivan by federal officers as he was heading home from protests.
"Those people were not journalists — I get that. There's no allegations those people were journalists and any allegation they were legal observers," Simon said.
"But I do think it's critically important that journalists and legal observers have the opportunity to see these things."
The ACLU sought the restraining order on behalf of journalists and legal observers they say have been attacked deliberately by federal officers while they were covering the nightly protests outside the U.S. Courthouse. The request named the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Marshals Service. The attacks have included deliberately shooting them with rubber bullets, the ACLU alleged in court filings.
"This injunction is a critical protection for journalists and legal observers exercising their fundamental right to record and observe police activities at these important protests, and it's a victory for the nation's right to receive a full account of these events," said Matthew Borden, pro bono counsel for the ACLU Foundation of Oregon and partner at BraunHagey & Borden LLP.
Simon previously issued a temporary restraining order and then a preliminary injunction that blocked city of Portland officials, including Portland Police, from arresting, threatening to arrest or using physical force against journalists or legal observers unless they "reasonably know" that person has committed a crime.
The ACLU of Oregon and the law firm BraunHagey & Borden LLP filed the class action lawsuit against the city of Portland on Sunday, June 28. They filed it on behalf of several reporters and legal observers who allege police assaulted them while documenting the protests against police brutality that have taken place continuously since George Floyd was killed by police at the end of May.
"This injunction is a critical protection for journalists and legal observers exercising their fundamental right to record and observe police activities at these important protests," Matthew Borden, a partner at BraunHagey & Borden LLP and pro bono counsel for the ACLU Foundation of Oregon, said in the release. "We are looking forward to fully and finally vindicating the rights of journalists and legal observers while this protection is in place."
The order also blocks police from ordering reporters and legal observers from recording or seizing recording devices or press passes unless they are being legally arrested.
The order states that press passes and badges or clothing that identifies the wearer as a journalist should help police identify journalists, but journalists do not need to have all indicators in order to be identified as a journalist.
However, the order specifically states that police will not be liable for "unintentional violations" of the order because a journalist is wearing distinctive clothing or a press pass or badge.
To help police identify legal observers, the observers should wear authorized or issued green National Lawyers' Guild hats or blue ACLU Legal Observer vest, the injunction states.
According to the order, the injunction does not stop police from using legal crowd dispersal methods, and they will not be liable if reporters or legal observers are exposed to crowd dispersal devices because they stayed after a crowd was ordered to disperse.
Portland journalists and legal observers "shall not be required to disperse following the issuance of an order to disperse," according to the injunction.
Oregon Public Broadcasting is a news partner of the Portland Tribune and contributed to this story.
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