PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Wednesday alleging U.S. agents sent by President Donald Trump to protect a federal courthouse targeted by Black Lives Matter protesters illegally used excessive force and illegal detentions to rob protesters of their freedom of speech and assembly.
The lawsuit also alleges that the acting director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, did not have the authority to send more than 100 agents to Portland because he was improperly appointed to the role due to a technicality in succession rules.
“Our clients were protesting in support of Black Lives Matter, but they were met by indiscriminate violence from federal police forces intent on squelching their message and their Constitutional rights,” said Jeremy Sacks, one of the attorneys who filed the case. “We will hold the federal government and the individual agents accountable for their actions.”
DHS did not immediately reply to a request for comment Wednesday. The lawsuit names that agency, as well as Wolf and Trump.
Plaintiffs include three military veterans, a college professor, several Black Lives Matter protesters and a man who alleges he was snatched off a street blocks from the federal courthouse by unidentified agents.
“I still haven’t fully come to terms with what it means that I was kidnapped by my government,” Mark Pettibone said in a statement.
“People need to know what happened to me and the government needs to be held accountable so that what happened to me doesn’t happen to someone else.”
Almost all the plaintiffs allege physical injuries from getting hit by metal tear gas canisters, rubber bullets, pepper spray and other chemical irritants. Some were treated at hospitals, where they got multiple stitches and received CAT scans to check for more serious internal injuries, the lawsuit says.
A video of plaintiff and Navy veteran Christopher David's encounter with U.S. agents outside the Portland courthouse circulated widely on social media. It showed one agent hitting David with a baton and another dousing him in the face with pepper spray. David suffered two broken bones in his hand.
The U.S. Department of Justice has said it is conducting an internal review of the incident.
Wednesday's lawsuit is the third one filed by ACLU in Portland since nightly protests began after the May 25 death of George Floyd, the Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pinned him by the neck.
Two previous lawsuits targeted the federal agents' actions against members of the press and legal observers and against street medics who treat protesters hurt by tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.