Federal officers, clad in unmarked military fatigues and driving unmarked vans, have reportedly been abruptly grabbing and detaining protesters in Portland, Ore., as the tension between the forces sent to protect federal property and demonstrators continues.
Protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the end of May have been dominating Portland’s downtown area for well over a month. The demonstrations have, at times, led to damage of federal buildings, which is what prompted Chad Wolf — acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security — to send federal officers to the Rose City in recent weeks. President Trump has repeatedly threatened to send federal forces into the cities that have been gripped by demonstrations in the months since Floyd’s killing, condemning the protesters as anarchists and looters.
Wolf in a statement Thursday described protesters as a “violent mob,” though protests Thursday night were reported to be mainly peaceful.
Portland resident Mark Pettibone and his friend Conner O’Shea described being approached by a group of unidentifiable federal officers in an unmarked van in an interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB). The two said they were walking home at the time.
“I see guys in camo,” O’Shea told OPB. “Four or five of them pop out, open the door and it was just like, ‘Oh shit. I don’t know who you are or what you want with us.’”
While O’Shea ran and ultimately evaded the officers, Pettibone did not.
“I am basically tossed into the van,” Pettibone explained. “And I had my beanie pulled over my face so I couldn’t see and they held my hands over my head.”
Pettibone and O’Shea told the station that while they have attended protests regularly, they had not done anything to damage federal property.
Pettibone said he discovered after his release that the officers took him to the Hatfield Federal Courthouse, one of the main buildings damaged by protesters.
“It was basically a process of facing many walls and corners as they patted me down and took my picture and rummaged through my belongings,” Pettibone said. “One of them said, ‘This is a whole lot of nothing.’”
Pettibone said he was put in a cell and read his rights but wasn’t told why he was being arrested.
The officers asked him if he would waive his rights and answer some questions; Pettibone declined, saying that he wanted a lawyer. An hour and a half later, Pettibone was released without being interviewed by the officers and wasn’t given a citation or record of his arrest.
The U.S. Marshals Service, one of the federal law enforcement groups sent by Wolf, told OPB that marshals had not arrested Pettibone.
“All United States Marshals Service arrestees have public records of arrest documenting their charges. Our agency did not arrest or detain Mark James Pettibone,” it said in a statement.
When extensively asked about the reported events by OPB, a Homeland Security Department spokesperson only acknowledged that Wolf had been in Portland during the day to assess the damage to federal property. Wolf’s deploying of federal law enforcement to Portland has been met with ire from Oregon lawmakers. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler (D) tweeted Thursday that he had told Wolf that “we do not need or want” assistance from federal officers.
In a tweet of her own, Gov. Kate Brown (D) said, “I told Acting Secretary Wolf that the federal government should remove all federal officers from our streets. His response showed me he is on a mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes. He is putting both Oregonians and local law enforcement officers in harm’s way.”
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