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Federal forces keeping medics from doing jobs at Portland protests, ACLU suit says

A lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union in Oregon claims federal agents and local police have violated the civil rights of volunteer medics by using force against them as they’ve attempted to render aid to injured protesters in Portland.The suit filed in U.S. District Court in Portland on Wednesday alleges multiple incidents in which…

A lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union in Oregon claims federal agents and local police have violated the civil rights of volunteer medics by using force against them as they’ve attempted to render aid to injured protesters in Portland.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court in Portland on Wednesday alleges multiple incidents in which medics faced rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray as well as pushing and shoving. The ACLU said one clash captured on video was an egregious example.

The civil rights organization states that the July 11 video shows two of four plaintiffs being “attacked” by unidentified federal agents while attempting to provide aid to an “incapacitated bystander.”

Orion Crabb holds his head back while a medic rinses tear gas from his eyes after federal officers dispersed a crowd of about 1,000 protesters from in front of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland, Ore. on July 21, 2020.Nathan Howard / Getty Images

“It was terrifying,” medic Savannah Guest said in the statement. “Every human being deserves help, but the federal agents showed no humanity or concern.”

The suit said Guest was kneeling to help the protester when she kicked away an active tear gas canister and an unidentified agent fired rubber bullets at her in response. “They hit her several times, leaving abrasions and bruises on her feet and ankles,” it states.

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The ACLU said that Guest and other plaintiffs were clearly working as medics and had on identifying markings.

The suit names the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Marshals service and Portland police as defendants.

The Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Portland Police Bureau did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

One plaintiff, Christopher Wise, says he has been attacked multiple times while volunteering at protests that have erupted since the May 25 in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The ACLU noted in the filing that he’s “a former EMT and one of the few Black men serving as a protest medic in Portland.”

The suit states that Portland police shot him with a rubber bullet as he volunteered at a protest June 2. It says the wound on his shin became infected, he lost seven days’ work, and he still hasn’t fully recovered.

The filing says the attacks violated multiple constitutional rights, including freedom of speech and assembly, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures and states’ rights.

Plaintiffs attorneys, including outside counsel Shane Grannum, blamed the violence in part on the administration of President Donald Trump, who has encouraged the use of federal agents against demonstrators.

On Wednesday, Trump expanded the initiative by announcing federal officers would be deployed to Chicago, which has been experiencing violent crime.

“Our clients have been tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed, beaten and shot with rubber bullets, even while administering care to injured protesters,” Grannum said in a statement. “This lawsuit seeks to ensure that the Trump Administration and Portland Police will be held accountable for their violent, lawless and unconstitutional actions.”

The ACLU said it would seek a court order prohibiting police and federal forces from using force against law-abiding medics.

The suit seeks attorney’s fees, “costs” and “other relief the Court deems proper.”

It’s the second ACLU suit against authorities since demonstrations erupted in Portland on May 29. On Thursday, a court is expected to hear arguments in the organization’s request to add federal agents to its successful suit prohibiting law enforcement in Portland from attacking journalists.

Image: Dennis RomeroDennis Romero

Dennis Romero writes for NBC News and is based in Los Angeles.

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