Oakland joins Portland in suing Trump administration over use of federal agents at protests

OAKLAND — Oakland and Portland, Oregon, are suing the Trump administration, alleging that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department are violating the Constitution by deploying federal agents to control protests in those cities.

The cities, represented in part by the Public Rights Project, filed the lawsuit Wednesday in federal court in San Francisco, alleging that the federal agencies have overstepped their authority by deploying federal officers and by deputizing local police  as federal agents against the wishes of city officials.

A new policy from the Trump administration authorizing federal officers to enter cities to quash protests is a shift in policy and one that vastly overreaches its authority and threatens local law enforcement, the lawsuit says, citing a constitutional doctrine that gives states autonomy to regulate their own affairs.

While the focus of the lawsuit is largely over what happened during protests this summer in Portland, where theTrump administration sent U.S. agents to guard a federal courthouse and clashed with protesters, Oakland joined the lawsuit because Trump has repeatedly threatened to send in federal authorities here and to other cities.

“It is a sad day for this nation when Oakland and other progressive cities must protect our residents’ constitutional rights from unlawful and unconstitutional federal overreach,” said Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker in a written statement. “During the 1960s civil rights movement, the federal government sought to protect constitutional rights to peacefully protest segregated businesses and public facilities, and to attend desegregated public schools when local and state governments failed to do so. But the Trump administration’s new policy does the opposite, which is why we had to go to court to challenge it.”

The lawsuit alleges that Oakland has suffered economic harm from the president’s vague threats to send in federal police, including time spent engaging in “new outreach” through its emergency operations center and in preparation for the possibility of federal intervention. The city maintains that federal interference could impact its mutual aid agreements with other cities that it relies on for help in policing. Its mutual aid agreements do not cover what would happen in the case of a federal law enforcement intervention.

And such intervention would threaten the relationships that local departments have with their communities, the lawsuit alleges.

In an email, a Department of Homeland Security representative said the department has acted “entirely lawfully,” and called the claim a “meritless lawsuit” that was ginned up by “dangerous politicians and fringe special interest groups.”

“They aim to harm President Trump and distract from his law and order agenda,” said the spokesman, Matt Boggs.

Protests over racial injustice and police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd — a Black man killed by police in Minneapolis — rocked Oakland and Portland over the summer.

In response, the Trump administration under the new policy sent federal agents to Portland without the city’s knowedge, and the agents “significantly escalated” violence and reduced public trust in public safety, according to the lawsuit.

While the stated aim was protecting federal property, the agents patrolled and detained people well beyond the bounds of federal property in Oregon. And last month, after Portland agreed to have some police officers deputized as federal agents in advance of a planned right-wing rally, the federal government has refused to end the agreement. City leaders say they thought that deputization would be over after that weekend, but federal leaders — including from the Marshals Service — have refused to cancel the deputization.

U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams and Russ Burger, U.S. marshal for Oregon, said in a joint press release last month that the refusal to cancel it is partly because of “federal deputation supports front line law enforcement officers and their families in a way that they have not seen from City Hall.”

In a statement Thursday about the lawsuit, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said, “Federal forces physically harmed peaceful protestors and made local police work more dangerous by reducing public trust during a time of unprecedented racial reckoning,” adding that “we need support from the federal government, not violence.”

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Author: Annie Sciacca