Judge proposes numbered jerseys for federal agents in Portland

Source: Politico | July 31, 2020 | Josh Gerstein

Court may make law enforcement officers grappling with protests wear unique codes.

A judge in Portland, Ore., is proposing that the uniforms of federal agents responding to long-running protests and unrest in that city be emblazoned with easily visible numbers so officers can be easily identified if they commit abuses.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon aired the suggestion Friday in connection with a lawsuit he’s overseeing that accuses city police and federal law enforcement officers of unjustified use of force against journalists and legal observers monitoring the protests, which have centered in recent weeks on the main federal courthouse in Portland.

“I do think it might be appropriate to require any federal law enforcement officer who steps out of the federal courthouse building to wear a unique identifying code,” Simon said during a 90-minute teleconference with lawyers involved in the case. “I’m taking this very, very seriously.”

The judge said he was considering ordering that federal agents — including scores of officers the Trump administration dispatched to the city from across the country — wear numbers about 8 inches high that would make it easier to assess whether some officers are violating a temporary restraining order the court issued last week.

Simon said he was thinking of something like the jerseys professional sports players wear, minus the names, which he said would expose law enforcement officers to the threat of doxing by the public.

The judge’s restraining order bars law enforcement from targeting journalists or legal observers and also gives those categories of individuals the right to remain in areas even if authorities require the general public to disperse because of riotlike conditions.

Simon’s unusual proposal came after lawyers for the journalists and for the federal government filed competing legal motions in recent days about the implementation of the court’s order.

Several members of the press contend they have been hit with less-than-lethal munitions at close range in direct violation of the court’s order. And Justice Department attorneys say individuals masquerading as members of the press have been wreaking havoc by attempting to scale the courthouse’s new perimeter fence or effectively shielding violent protesters by mingling among them.

During the telephone conference, Simon said he was troubled by both sets of allegations. He said some videos the plaintiffs presented do appear to show intentional targeting of the press. And he even publicly mulled the possibility of criminal contempt proceedings or a ban from the state for any agents who might defy his order.

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