A federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order enjoining the Portland police from dispersing, arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force against journalists or legal observers at protests, unless there is probable cause to think they have committed a crime.
Oregon U.S. District Judge Michael Simon issued the order Thursday afternoon in response to a request from the American Civil Liberties Union, which accuses the police of targeting and attacking reporters and legal observers at the ongoing political protests in Portland. It is effective for 14 days.
"We are very pleased that the court granted some relief prior to the long holiday weekend," said Matthew Borden, partner at BraunHagey & Borden LLP, which filed the suit. "We hope that this creates a needed shield for members of the press and legal observers documenting how police are treating protesters."
The order also covers all persons under the direction of the Portland Police Bureau.
Police also may not 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.
"We are hopeful this order gets police in Portland one step closer to respecting the Constitution instead of violently suppressing those documenting them abusing it," said Kelly Simon, interim legal director at the ACLU of Oregon. "Police need to know that everybody is watching."
The order also says that when identifying whether a person is a journalist, police are entitled to consider whether the person is carrying a professional or authorized press pass, wearing a professional or authorized press badge, or wearing distinctive clothing that identifies the wearer as a member of the
In addition, the order says the police shall not be liable for unintentional violations of the order in the case of an individual who does not carry a press pass or wear a press badge or distinctive clothing that identifies the wearer as a member of the press.
During a Thursday morning status conference with reporters for the ACLU, the City of Portland and others, Simon said he would hold a followup hearing on such an order Friday morning if any of the parties objects to it.
The ACLU Foundation of Oregon and the law firm BraunHagey & Borden filed a class-action lawsuit against the city and bureau on behalf of a number of journalists and legal observers on Sunday, June 28. The suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon accused police of targeting and attacking the reporters and legal observers at the anti-racism protests sparked by the death of African American George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police.
"The Portland Mercury, 12 journalists, and two ACLU of Oregon legal observers told the court that people are afraid to report on and observe protests because the police have targeted journalists and observers with rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, beatings, flash-bang grenades, detentions, arrests, and threats," the ACLU said in a June 30 press release announcing the request for the temporary restraining order.
The ACLU then filed for a temporary restraining order on Tuesday, July 30. It asked Simon to issue an order to immediately prohibit law enforcement from:
• Using any form of physical force against a journalist or legal observer, including tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and flash-bang grenades.
• Arresting or threatening to arrest journalists and legal observers or seizing their equipment.
• Threatening, harassing or intimidating a journalist or legal observer.
• Using indiscriminate force against crowds that are likely to contain journalists or legal observers.
• "Kettling" or "killboxing" crowds that are likely to include journalists or legal observers.
• Ordering or forcing journalists or legal observers to disperse, or to stop recording or observing a protest.
The order did not go that far.
The lawsuit also seeks damages for injuries sustained by reporters.
The reporters and observers include Doug Brown, Sam Gehrke, Mathieu Lewis-Rolland, Kat Mahoney, Nathan Millsap, Sergio Olmos, Zach Putman, John Rudoff, Suzette Smith, Blair Stenvick, Elliot Tippie, Alex Milan Tracy, Tuck Woodstock, and Alex Zielinkski.
Although an incident involving Portland Tribune reporter Zane Sparling is cited in the suit, he and the paper are not a party to it. Olmos and Stenvick have both written for the Tribune in the past.
Mayor Ted Wheeler and Police Chief Chuck Lovell say they take the accusations seriously and are investigating them.
You can read the order here.
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