A US district court judge on Thursday added federal agents to the list of state personnel who cannot assault or arrest journalists and legal observers who observe the arrests and violence accompanying the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests in Portland and prohibiting federal agents from removing members of the press under orders to disperse.
Judge Michael Simon extended a previous temporary restraining order (TRO) against federal agents who were deployed to Portland by President Trump. The previous order noted that, despite only engaging in observation and recording of police activity and being clearly identified as members of the press and observers, journalists and observers were subjected to violent assaults. In extending the TRO, Simon noted that the plaintiffs had submitted evidence that “shows conduct that appears to target journalists and legal observers.” He found that this conduct forced the plaintiffs to cease newsgathering and observation, chilling the exercise of their First Amendment rights.
The government had contended that members of the press and legal observers had no right to remain after the government made a decision to close the streets, however, Simon noted that only state and local police have the power to close streets, not federal agents. Furthermore, the intent of journalists and observers in staying after a closing order is to record whether the closing itself was legal and lawfully carried out: “Without journalists and legal observers, there is only the government’s side of the story to explain why a “riot” was declared and the public streets were “closed” and whether law enforcement acted properly in effectuating that order.”
The judge also ordered federal agencies to add more prominent identifying numbers to agents’ uniforms, noting that the current identifiers were not sufficiently visible to observers. He discounted the government’s contention that “there is no possible location on the helmet or uniforms on which more visible markings can be placed.”
The government has said it will appeal the judge’s order.