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Watchdog to review conduct of U.S. federal agents in Portland, Washington protests

The U.S. Justice Department inspector general said Thursday that it will review the conduct of federal agents who responded to unrest in Portland, Ore., and Washington, following concerns from members of Congress and the public.A federal police officer takes cover behind a shield while clashing with protesters at the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in…

The U.S. Justice Department inspector general said Thursday that it will review the conduct of federal agents who responded to unrest in Portland, Ore., and Washington, following concerns from members of Congress and the public.

A federal police officer takes cover behind a shield while clashing with protesters at the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland, Ore., on Wednesday. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

The U.S. Justice Department inspector general said Thursday that it will review the conduct of federal agents who responded to unrest in Portland, Ore., and Washington, following concerns from members of Congress and the public.

The watchdog investigation will examine use-of-force allegations in Portland, where the city’s top federal prosecutor and mayor have publicly complained.

In Washington, investigators will look at the training and instruction provided to the federal agents who responded to protest activity at Lafayette Square, near the White House.

Among the questions being studied are whether the agents followed Justice Department guidelines, including on identification requirements and in the deployment of chemical agents and use of force.

The investigation was announced amid ongoing unrest in Portland, where Mayor Ted Wheeler was tear-gassed by federal agents as he stood outside the courthouse there.

WATCH | Mayor Ted Wheeler among those tear gassed in Portland:

During another night of protest against the presence of federal agents in Portland, Mayor Ted Wheeler was among those tear gassed by federal law enforcement.  0: 48

Local authorities in both cities have complained that the presence of federal agents has exacerbated tensions on the streets, while residents have accused the government of violating their constitutional rights.

Civil unrest escalated in Portland after federal agents were accused of whisking people away in unmarked cars without probable cause. And in Washington, peaceful protesters were violently cleared from the streets by federal officers using tear gas.

The decision to dispatch federal agents to American cities is playing out at a hyper-politicized moment when Trump is grasping for a new re-election strategy after the COVID-19 pandemic upended the economy, dismantling what his campaign had seen as his ticket to a second term.

Trump has seized on a moment of spiking violence in some cities, claiming it will only rise if his Democratic rival Joe Biden is elected in November and Democrats have a chance to make the police reforms they have endorsed after the killing of George Floyd and nationwide protests demanding racial justice.

The federal response is likely to be a major topic of discussion next week when Attorney General William Barr appears before the House Judiciary Committee for a hearing.

Judge blocks agents from arresting press

Also, late Thursday a federal judge specifically blocked federal agents from arresting or using physical force against journalists and legal observers at the ongoing Portland protests. The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

U.S. Judge Michael Simon previously ruled that journalists and legal observers are exempt from police orders requiring protesters to disperse once an unlawful assembly has been declared. Federal lawyers had said that journalists should have to leave when ordered.

“This order is a victory for the rule of law,” Jann Carson, interim executive director of the ACLU in Oregon, said in a statement.

BREAKING: A federal court just blocked federal agents from attacking journalists and legal observers at protests in Portland. The feds launched a full-scale attack on the First Amendment — we’re fighting back. https://t.co/DXpRoC11aj pic.twitter.com/G3hrdBv6Ii

@ACLU_OR

A freelance photographer covering the protests for The Associated Press submitted an affidavit that he was beaten with batons, doused with chemical irritants and hit with rubber bullets this week.

The ACLU lawsuit is one of several filed in response to law enforcement actions during the protests. The state of Oregon is seeking an order limiting federal agents’ arrest powers during the demonstrations.

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