Federal authorities in unmarked camouflage attire and driving unmarked vans picked up protesters in the early morning hours of Wednesday, while interim U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf was visiting Oregon's largest city this week. After reports of the unmarked federal authorities' activities reached national news outlets, U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams requested an investigation. Meanwhile, Wolf has defended the DHS officers' actions, saying Portland has been "under siege" by a "violent mob."
On Thursday, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that federal authorities have been driving around downtown Portland in unmarked vehicles since at least Tuesday. Protesters have published videos on social media showing officers detaining people with no explanation before driving off. Friends Mark Pettibone and Conner O'Shea were detained by men who pulled up to them in an unmarked vehicle while they were walking home from a protest outside the federal courthouse.
"I see guys in camo... Four or five of them pop out, open the door and it was just like, 'Oh s—. I don't know who you are or what you want with us,'" O'Shea told OPB. Pettibone was among at least 13 people charged by federal officers. They were also behind the shooting of a demonstrator who suffered a skull fracture on July 11. Donavan LaBella was hit with an "impact munition," according to his friends and witnesses.
Federal authorities were also detaining people who were not near the federal property, according to interviews OPB conducted. O'Shea and Pettibone thought they were only followed by authorities because they wore black clothing. The friends said they did not see themselves as "instigators," as they were not spray painting buildings or doing anything else destructive at the protests. Pettibone said that although he was read his Miranda rights, he was never told why he was being arrested. He was released about 90 minutes after he asked a lawyer to be present when questioned, he said.
"You have laws regarding probable cause that can lead to arrests,” attorney Juan Chavez, director of the civil rights project at the Oregon Justice Resource Center, told OPB. “It sounds more like an abduction. It sounds like they’re kidnapping people off the streets." Chavez compared the arrests to "stop and frisk meet Guantanamo Bay."
On Thursday, Wolf defended his response to the protests in Portland, listing examples of graffiti, arrests, and damages done to federal property dating back to May 29. "The city of Portland has been under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob while local political leaders refuse to restore order to protect their city," Wolf wrote. "Each night, lawless anarchists destroy and desecrate property, including the federal courthouse, and attack the brave law enforcement officers protecting it."
Local Oregon officials slammed the federal government's actions. Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, called it "political theater from President Trump" that "has nothing to do with public safety." Brown added, "The president is failing to lead this nation. Now he is deploying federal officers to patrol the streets of Portland in a blatant abuse of power by the federal government." She said Wolf was on a "mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes."
On Friday, Williams called for an investigation into the unmarked authorities. "Based on news accounts circulating that allege federal law enforcement detained two protestors without probable cause, I have requested the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General to open a separate investigation directed specifically at the actions of DHS personnel," he said in a statement.
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum announced Saturday she is suing the federal government for arresting without probable cause. She also plans to investigate LaBella's injuries as well. "The current escalation of fear and violence in downtown Portland is being driven by federal law enforcement tactics that are entirely unnecessary and out of character with the Oregon way," she said, reports the Portland Tribune. "These tactics must stop." The ACLU of Oregon filed a lawsuit as well.