Federal agents could be in for a long haul guarding the Mark O. Hatfield courthouse in downtown Portland.
U.S. officials with the District of Oregon say out-of-town officers, many clad in camo, will continue to reinforce local Federal Protective Service police until the nightly sieges dissipate — or at very least stay peaceful.
"The officers would love nothing more than to stay inside the courthouse all night long," assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel told reporters by phone on Saturday, July 25. "If the protesters don't seek to damage or destroy the fence, then the officers have no need to go outside the fence or leave federal property."
Gabriel described the welded-metal fence surrounding the city-block sized facility as the primary de-escalation tool in use to prevent damage to the high-rise courthouse, noting that demonstrators had pried off boards to smash windows and doors before barricades were erected.
Local leaders have been less pleased. The Portland Bureau of Transportation, controlled by Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, described the fence as a hazard blocking a bike lane. Eudaly slammed the fence as an "illegal action (that) will not be tolerated" and sent a cease-and-desist letter promising fines and other remedies to the U.S. General Services Administration on July 23.
'People are angry'
In recent nights, protesters have used power tools, saws, ropes and have even driven vehicles toward the fence, prompting volleys of tear gas and pepper ball munitions from the federal officers. Rumors have blossomed on social media that the agents could be "mercenaries" or some form of private security guard, primarily based on blurry photos of the officers' ID number patches.
Gabriel didn't directly respond to those accounts, but said contracted security guards have been stationed at the courthouse overnight for a "very long time." "They're not having any interaction with the crowd beyond that," he added.
Gabriel said the U.S. DOJ has arrested or detained 60 people since July 4, when officers were called out by President Trump. Of those, 46 have charges pending — 30 facing misdemeanors, and eight each facing felonies or citations. The remainder were released without charges.
"People are angry," Gabriel said, acting on "deep and legitimate anger and frustration with police and the justice system. People all across the city of Portland are protesting in Constitutionally protected ways."
But not everyone has remained non-violent. The federal attorney detailed injuries reportedly sustained by the agents, including six injured on Friday night, including one burned by mortar firework blasts and another who suffered a concussion.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Friday, July 24, that three officers had been "likely left permanently blinded" while serving in Portland. The deputy director of the Federal Protective Service had earlier described the trio's wounds slightly differently, calling them "eye injuries (that) they may not recover sight in."
Gabriel said protesters have hurled frozen water bottles, canned food, bricks and other projectiles at officers, as well as set fires within the fenced perimeter using accelerant.
"We've all seen the Wall of Moms and the NAACP protest next door. That is what we support, and that is what we want to see amplified and grow," he said. "We have to condemn the ongoing violence against police officers and justice facilities."