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Lawsuit filed in Washington, D.C., federal court claims that federal officers are violating Portland protesters' constitutional rights.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Federal officers patrol downtown Portland after pushing protesters back from the U.S. Courthouse on Monday, July 20. Don't Shoot Portland and the Wall of Moms are suing the Department of Homeland Security and several federal agencies, alleging that the federal government's response to Black Lives Matter protests in Portland "exceeds the bounds of what the law authorizes."'

The groups filed the lawsuit Monday, July 27, in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. They claim tactics federal agents have used against Portland protesters for weeks, such as tear gas and rubber bullets, violate the protesters' constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly and due process.

"Defendants' actions betray a foundational principle of American democracy: that the federal government exercises only the powers the Constitution authorizes," according to the lawsuit.

Since the federal government sent officers to Portland in early July, protests have intensified. The lawsuit alleges that while they were deployed under the guise of protecting federal property, the actual goal was to "quell the protests."

Federal agencies and officials do not comment on pending litigation. No court date has been set for the lawsuit.

Don't Shoot Portland and the Wall of Moms, along with five individual protesters, are represented by lawyers from nonprofit organization Protect Democracy and private firms Debevoise & Plimpton LLP and Perkins Coie LLP.

Bev Barnum, who organizes Wall of Moms and is one of the plaintiffs, said in a press release that actions of federal law enforcement brought her to protest in downtown Portland. "As moms, our primary job is to protect those we love," Barnum said in the release. "We chose to stand together to protect innocent protesters from abusive government behavior.

"I fear for my personal safety every night I go out there, but I know that what we're doing is right, and what the federal agents are doing is wrong."

"What we're doing with this lawsuit is protecting the fundamental right to protest, which defines a democracy, so that we can continue to defend Black lives against state-sanctioned violence," said Don't Shoot PDX founder Teressa Raiford in the release. "Hopefully, it inspires others to do the same."

Federal overreach

The complaint also alleges that Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, one of 13 defendants in the lawsuit, is not legally serving in his role because he has not been confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The lawsuit alleges that federal law requires that acting officers may only serve for 210 days. Wolf took on the role on Nov. 13, 2019, so his last day should have been in June, before he deployed federal law enforcement to Portland.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Protect Service, the Department of Justice and the Marshals Service, as well as representatives of each of these federal agencies, were also named in the lawsuit.

The complaint asked that the court declare the federal law enforcement tactics used in Portland unlawful and block their further use, as well as void Wolf's orders. It also asks that the court declare that federal officers may only be deployed for specific actions, like protecting federal property.

The lawsuit is the latest of many filed filed in recent weeks against the Portland Police Bureau and federal agencies, alleging federal overreach and the violation of protesters' constitutional rights.

Gina Scalpone
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