A federal officer points his less-lethal weapon into the crowd while dispersing a protest against racial injustice and police brutality in Portland, Ore. | Nathan Howard/Getty Images
Federal officials responding to the long-running protests in Portland are asking that a court order protecting journalists be lifted on the grounds that some of those engaged in violence are masquerading as members of the press.
Justice Department lawyers leveled the claims of misconduct by purported journalists in filings submitted Thursday to U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon, who issued a temporary restraining order last week forbidding federal authorities from targeting the press.
His order also requires law enforcement to allow individuals claiming to be journalists to remain in place even when crowds are ordered to disperse.
The federal government’s drive to dissolve the injunction came just one day after the Trump administration struck a deal with Gov. Kate Brown (D-Ore.) to try to quell unrest and violence around the federal courthouse in Portland.
Under the pact, Oregon State Police agreed to set up a security perimeter around the building, while federal law enforcement agents dispatched from around the country would retreat and eventually leave town.
However, the feds’ bid to rescind the restraining order signals their desire to maintain maximum flexibility in responding to the unrest if they again assume a front-line role or if the state police arrangement proves inadequate.
“Individuals are abusing the TRO to masquerade as members of the press and evade lawful orders, or actively participating in protest activities and even illegal acts while holding themselves out to be members of the press under the protection of the TRO,” Justice Department lawyers wrote. “Even individuals who are not expressly taking advantage of the TRO are often within crowds of protesters or between officers and active protesters making it incredibly difficult and dangerous to observe the restrictions while implementing crowd control measures.”
“Savvy protesters abuse the TRO to evade lawful orders, impede law enforcement, and perpetrate crimes. The TRO has become ‘an instrument of wrong,’ and must be dissolved,” DOJ attorneys argued.
The federal government’s filing also amounts to a rejoinder of sorts to claims by journalists that they were targeted by law enforcement in violation of the judge’s order. Simon has scheduled a status conference in the case for 10 a.m. PST Friday.
The federal submission includes seven declarations from senior officials and front-line officers about alleged instances of people wearing “press” patches or badges assaulting officers, interfering with them, damaging the perimeter fence or trying to scale it.
In one instance last week, law enforcement officials said, an individual with “press” lettering on his clothes was detained and was carrying a pistol. The feds also cite tweets and video posted online by freelance reporter Sergio Olmos of an individual wearing a “press” shirt running towards the perimeter fence while holding a riot shield and a mobile phone.
Another internet video cited in the filing allegedly includes a purported journalist at the protests declaring that he or she has “a bunch more press passes to give out to people.”
While the Justice Department’s submission includes numerous photos, many depict people identified as press mingling with crowds that officers say were violent or dangerous.
One specific incident described in the filing that has resulted in an arrest is that of Cameron Knutson, who was taken into custody outside the courthouse last week after allegedly crossing through a gap others opened in the perimeter fence.
“At the time of his arrest he was carrying commercial grade fireworks. The subject was also wearing insignia indicating he was a journalist,” a Customs and Border Patrol agent wrote.
Court records indicate that Knutson was charged with a misdemeanor for violating federal regulations and entered a not guilty plea. A magistrate judge ordered him released, with a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and an order to stay at least five blocks away from the federal courthouse “unless on official business.”
One of the two federal prosecutors assigned to Knutson’s case withdrew Thursday. No reason was given.
News – Citing impostors, feds urge lifting of court order protecting journalists amid Portland protests