Oregon Attorney General Files Complaint Against U.S. Federal Agencies Over Civil Rights Violations

On Friday, July 17, 2020, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court, District of Oregon, against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Marshals Service, and the Federal Protective Service. The lawsuit is filed on behalf of Oregon citizens and alleges that defendants have violated the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights of Oregon citizens by seizing and detaining citizens without probable cause for protesting against police brutality.

The complaint alleges that federal law enforcement officers have been unlawfully detaining protestors in downtown Portland, Oregon by placing the protestors in unmarked vehicles and “removing [protestors] from public without either arresting them or stating the basis for an arrest, since at least Tuesday, July 14.” The complaint also names John Does 1-10 as defendants since “the identity of the officers is not known, nor is their agency affiliation,” since videos and reports only show that the officers in question “wear military fatigues with patches simply reading ‘POLICE,’ with no other identifying information.” Reports allege that citizens have been detained without warning or explanation and without a warrant.

The complaint states that “[o]rdinarily, a person. . . confronted by anonymous men in military-type fatigues and ordered into an unmarked van can reasonably assume that he is being kidnapped and is the victim of a crime.” Attorney General Rosenblum’s complaint also alleges that “[s]tate law enforcement officers are not being consulted or coordinated with on these federal detentions,” thereby “violat[ing] the state’s sovereign interests in enforcing its laws and in protecting people within its borders from kidnap and false arrest, without serving any legitimate federal law enforcement purpose.”

The lawsuit is based on violations of Oregon citizens’ First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights. The First Amendment claim is based on the fact that “[c]itizens peacefully gathering on the streets to protest racial inequality have the right to gather and express themselves under the First Amendment.” The Fourth Amendment claim is based on information and belief that the detained citizens were seized “without a warrant, in the absence of an injunction, and no exception to the warrant requirement justified,” thus constituting an unreasonable seizure. The Fifth Amendment claim is brought based on the “prohibit[ion of] federal officers from depriving a person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” The complaint also makes a claim for public nuisance because the defendants’ actions “unreasonably interfere with the general public’s right to public safety, public peace, public comfort, and public convenience.”

The complaint requests both declaratory relief and injunctive relief to stop the alleged unlawful arrests, specifically requesting that federal officers (1) identify themselves and their agencies; (2) explain why a person is being detained or arrested and explain the basis of such seizure or arrest; and (3) not arrest individuals without probable cause or a warrant.

Oregon’s governor and Portland’s mayor have made public pleas for the agencies to stop engaging in these tactics. Governor Kate Brown tweeted on Monday, July 20, 2020, that “[t]his is a democracy, not a dictatorship. We cannot have secret police abducting people in unmarked vehicles.”

Additional Reading

Oregon attorney general sues federal agencies for allegedly violating protesters’ civil rights, The Washington Post (July 18, 2020)

Rosenblum v. John Does 1-10 et al (Case No. 3:2020cv01161)

Complaint in Rosenblum v. John Does 1-10 et al

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