Navigation
Download the AMN app for your mobile device today - FREE!
  •  
HFP

Feds conduct surveillance from courthouse, analyze social media videos, post undercover agents in crowds, records show

After a peaceful march of hundreds to the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Friday, May 29, 2020, protestors returned to the area around the CNN Center and confronted police amid outrage over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. (Ben Gray/Atlanta Journal Constitution/TNS)

Federal officers have been conducting surveillance of protesters from upper floors of the downtown Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse, analyzing live nightly video footage and posting undercover plainclothes agents among crowds to arrest people on allegations ranging from the shining of lasers at officers to breaking of plywood protecting courthouse doors, federal records reveal.

Federal officers also have shared some of their information with Portland police officers, who have assisted the federal officers in at least one arrest earlier this month, the documents disclose.

In the predawn hours of July 11, for example, a Portland police officer detained a man who the Federal Protective Service had identified as having shined a green laser into the eyes of a U.S. Border Patrol agent who was in an “overlook position” on the 7th floor of the federal courthouse, and later shined it at other federal agents who emerged from the courthouse.

The Portland police officer brought the man, Edward William Carubis, to the federal courthouse that morning after the Federal Protective Service had identified him as a suspect for arrest, according to Micah Coring, a Federal Protective Service agent.

Carubis, 24, is now accused of assault on a federal officer in federal court, one of at least a dozen people facing federal allegations stemming from the late-night and early morning protests outside the courthouse.

- ADVERTISEMENT -

Federal court records provide a window into the tactics of multiple federal agencies based at the downtown federal courthouse in Portland at a time when local, state and federal officials in Oregon have roundly criticized the enhanced federal presence and their officers’ heavy-handed use of tear gas, impact munitions and batons.

President Donald Trump, in a Twitter message Sunday, wrote that the city’s leadership “has, for months, lost control of the anarchists and agitators,‘’ and that federal officers “must protect Federal Property, AND OUR PEOPLE.‘’ Under an executive order, he sent federal officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s tactical team, known as BORTAC, the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be part of a new Department of Homeland Security “Protecting American Communities Task Force,‘’ to support Federal Protective Service officers. He promised to send the federal officers to other cities.

The federal officers’ presence has only stoked the nightly strife in downtown, not tamped down tensions as professed by Trump or Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad F. Wolf, local and state leaders say.

“Their presence has certainly coincided with growing crowds,‘’ Assistant Chief Chris Davis said Sunday. “We all have seen the energy that has gathered just in the last few days.‘’

Meanwhile, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has repeatedly called on the federal officers to leave Portland, and Sunday said Trump “needs to stop playing politics with people’s lives.”

At the same time, the governor on Friday also denied a request made by Portland police for the Oregon State Police mobile field force, its crowd control team, to assist officers in the city for another week. She told Portland police she wouldn’t allow state troopers to help Portland until the federal officers were gone.

At times, federal agents have taken photos of people committing vandalism or reviewed live-stream video footage of actions outside the federal courthouse, and then kept surveillance on their alleged targets for some time before they’ve waded into crowds to make arrests, federal officers revealed in court papers.

Federal officers sometimes have waited hours to make the arrests once the number of people outside the courthouse has thinned, according to federal officers and prosecutors.

In some cases, the federal officers have relied on live video footage filmed by demonstrators or independent journalists that’s been shared via Twitter, YouTube or other social media.

Freeze-frames, for example, of video footage obtained from the Twitter account “Simulation Warlord Twitter,‘’ was used by federal agents to document allegations against Jacob Michael Gaines, on July 11.

Gaines, 23, is accused of using a hammer to bang a hole into the plywood covering the south employee entrance to the federal courthouse.

The screenshots, displayed in a federal affidavit, capture the hammering of a hole into the plywood, followed by Gaines’ arrest by members of the U.S. Marshals Service tactical team. A member of the team said Gaines struck him in the shoulder and upper back with a sledge hammer before other team members took Gaines to the ground and arrested him, according to Federal Protective Service agent David Miller.

A magistrate judge initially granted Gaines’ release pending trial, but a federal prosecutor appealed to a district judge, who ordered Gaines held. The prosecutor described Gaines as unemployed and living in a bus with his wife in North Portland, and said he has moved back and forth between Texas, Bend and Portland. He noted that Gaines had said he has guns in his bus, and suffers from mental health issues, according to court records.

“His own words to law enforcement: ‘You (expletives) are gonna have to kill me,’ – shouted while he was attacking the (federal officer) with a sledge hammer – are illuminating,” prosecutor Chris Cardani argued.

Another federal affidavit cites a link to footage posted on YouTube from “LiveFromTheEndofTheWorld,” showing what federal officers say is Kevin Benjamin Weier moving a burning piece of wood against a wooden plank covering the front of the federal courthouse and then walking off, before other protesters removed it and tried to put out the flame.

A Department of Homeland Security intelligence operations specialist analyzed the YouTube channel video and shared screenshots of Weier with other federal officers posted at the courthouse.

“Agents both inside and outside of the courthouse maintained surveillance of Weier for approximately two hours, until the crowd thinned out,‘’ and a federal arrest team located Weier about 3:30 a.m. and arrested him early July 13, wrote Coring, the Federal Protective Service agent.

Weier, 34, was charged with attempted arson of the federal courthouse, though agents hadn’t appeared to identify who initially placed the wooden beam that was on fire against the courthouse.

“He tried to light the wood protecting the already-damaged front courthouse windows on fire, knowing that there were law enforcement agents inside. That was extremely hazardous conduct that, by its very nature, created a substantial danger to human life,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Sussman wrote in court papers.

A federal magistrate judge released Weier pending trial, but the prosecutor appealed to a district judge to try to revoke Weier’s release. U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman on Thursday supported Weier’s release.

Weier denied the government’s allegations.

Even if they are true, assistant federal public defender Bryan Francesconi argued on Weier’s behalf that “Weier did not create the fire nor was he the individual that originally placed the burning wood against the fa\u00e7ade. Rather, Mr. Weier is alleged to have repositioned an already burning plank by a few inches or a few feet. When presented with a hazardous situation not of his making, the Government alleges Mr. Weier made the situation potentially worse and definitely did not make it better. However, he also did not actually make the situation worse. The board was soon thereafter removed and the fa\u00e7ade neither burned nor even appears to have been charred.‘’

Francesconi also argued that Weier lacked “the kind of malice and forethought that is often associated with federally prosecuted criminal conduct.‘’

The prosecutor told the judge that Weier is unemployed after having quit a job at Mod Pizza in Eugene, has been in Oregon only seven months and before that moved frequently in California doing freelance work at music festivals. Weier’s lawyer countered that his client had been furloughed from the pizza shop and then quit out of concern for a lack of precautionary steps taken to safeguard workers from the spread of the coronavirus. Weir previously worked in California for five years as a freelance stagehand for music-related companies, Francesconi said.

Mark Pettibone statement: ‘I sank to my knees and put my hands in the air’

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum late Friday filed suit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the Federal Protective Service. The attorney general seeks to bar federal officers from illegally detaining anyone without probable cause on city streets and whisking them off in unmarked rental vans.

The suit alleges the federal officers’ actions have violated Portlanders’ free speech, due process rights and resulted in unlawful seizure, creating a public nuisance.

Mark Pettibone, 29, filed a sworn declaration in support, describing how he was walking home about 2 a.m. on July 15 in downtown Portland after demonstrating, and “men in green military fatigues adorned with generic ‘police’ patches,’ ” jumped out of an unmarked minivan and walked up to him without warning.

“I did not know whether the men were police or far-right extremists, who, in my experience, frequently don military-like outfits and harass left-leaning protesters in Portland. My first thought was to run. I made it about a half-block before I realized there would be no escape from them,‘’ he wrote to the court.

“I sank to my knees and put my hands in the air,” his declaration said. He said the men searched him, asked him if he had any weapons and two read him his Miranda rights. He was taken to the federal courthouse, declined to answer questions and was released but said in his statement that he did not know why he was detained.

On Twitter, Mark Morgan, a senior official with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, wrote that the agency won’t tolerate “violence and civil unrest.‘’ He referred to a person in a video who border patrol agents on the streets of Portland approached and “moved the suspect to a safer location” for questioning to avoid a “large and violent mob,” suspecting he had previously assaulted a federal officer or destroyed federal property. Morgan didn’t reference if he was talking about Pettibone’s account.

Rosenblum has asked a judge to declare it unlawful for federal law enforcement to pull people off of the streets without probable cause, using unmarked cars and unidentified officers. She’s also seeking a permanent injunction that would require any federal officers to identify themselves or their agency before detaining someone, explain to the person detained why they’re being held and not make arrests without probable cause or a warrant.

Portland police dignitary protection officers had contact with interim Homeland Security secretary

When the acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf came to Portland last Thursday, Portland city leaders didn’t attend briefings with him at the federal courthouse.

Police union president Officer Daryl Turner did.

And at least two members of the Portland police Special Emergency Response Team also were present, called in by the U.S. Secret Service to assist with dignitary protection, part of the Portland tactical team’s responsibilities. They were caught in photos Wolf circulated on Twitter of him addressing officers in the lobby of the federal courthouse, where photos typically are not permitted.

Turner, president of the Portland Police Association, said he attended the sit-down with Wolf, one of three meetings held in a conference room in the U.S. Attorney’s Office Thursday.

“I wanted to see if they had any kind of plan,‘’ said Turner. He also said he asked the federal officers to work closer with and collaborate with Portland police.

But by Saturday, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler directed that no federal officers be allowed in the Portland police incident command center, where one had served as a liaison each night during demonstrations for at least the past two weeks.

“While sharing a space helped facilitate clear communication, based on recent actions by federal law enforcement officers I am not comfortable having them in our space,” the mayor wrote in a Twitter message Saturday night.

The mayor’s direction came after a deputy U.S. Marshal fired an impact munition that hit a protester in the head across the street from the federal courthouse late July 11; video caught unidentified federal officers clad in camouflage sweeping a man off a city street and placing him in an unmarked van, and federal officers fired tear gas and other impact munitions into crowds without warning and struck some protesters with batons.

ACLU argues for federal officers to be added as defendants in suit

Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon filed an amended complaint last week and won a judge’s approval Friday to add federal officers as defendants in their suit representing 10 named journalists, photojournalists and legal observers.

Under a prior temporary restraining order, the judge ordered Portland police not to disperse, attack or threaten to attack journalists or legal observers when ordering crowds to move from an area upon declaring an unlawful assembly or riot.

The ACLU wants that order to apply to federal officers.

“President Trump sent federal forces to Portland to suppress protests, and to subject Portland to the same type of indiscriminate violence that he used to clear Lafayette Square of peaceful protesters,‘’ attorney Matthew Borden wrote on behalf of the journalists, photojournalists and legal observers named as plaintiffs. “This campaign has included attacking media who dared to try to report what his minions are doing to demonstrators.‘’

On July 12, the agency said federal agents shot at least two journalists and chased legal observers away from the scene with their batons. Journalist Garrison Davis said he was moving backward when one federal agent launched a tear gas canister into his back. The canister fell into Davis’ bag and “inundated him with tear gas,‘’ until people nearby helped remove it. He also was shot with pepper bullets and other less-lethal munitions, and saw federal agents chase after legal observers from the National Lawyers’ Guild, swinging a smoking “truncheon,” Davis wrote in a sworn statement.

“Not only do federal agents use the same types of force—tear gas, rubber bullets, batons, arrests—in much the same way as the police, but they often coordinate with the police. For example, in the early hours of July 12, dozens of federal agents emerged from the Justice Center building, headquarters of the Portland Police Bureau, and began a campaign of wholesale violence against protesters and neutrals alike. At around 2:00 a.m., Portland police emerged from the same building and joined the federal agents, and the officers and agents worked together to push protesters and neutrals all the way to Southwest Broadway,‘’ the plaintiffs alleged.

Davis, Portland’s deputy police chief, said Sunday that police and the federal officers continue to have access to the same “radio channels, so they can talk to us on the radio.‘’

“But we’ve been pretty explicit with our folks that we’re not coordinating operations” with any federal officers, he said.

Portland police are based at the Justice Center, which is sandwiched between two federal buildings. That makes it difficult not to cross paths with the federal officers, the deputy chief added.

“We’re not like splitting up tasks and saying you go over there and do that. But we’re going to run into each other,” Davis said. “So it’s challenging to have them come out and do things differently than we would do them.”

City attorneys don’t want Portland to face liability for federal use of force

Portland city attorneys don’t want the city to be liable for federal officers’ use of force.

That’s why the city opposed the motion to add federal officers as defendants in the suit the journalists and legal observers filed initially against Portland police.

In court papers, city attorneys pointed out that the mayor and some city commissioners have condemned the federal use of force, including the firing of an apparent impact munition that struck 26-year-old Donavan LaBella in the head, seriously wounding him. LaBella appeared to be shot as he was holding a music speaker above his head, across the street from the federal courthouse.

The use of force by a member of the U.S. Marshals Service Special Operations Group is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General.

Portland senior deputy city attorney Denis M. Vannier wrote, “While plaintiffs alleged that both the City and Federal Entities have used excessive force generally, plaintiffs appear to contend that the Federal Entities’ conduct was directed by President Trump – something that has no connection to the City.‘’

“Finally, the City believes that it would suffer undue prejudice in this case if it were forced to defend itself alongside the federal entities,‘’ Vannier wrote. “The City’s position in this case is that its actions complied with the Constitution. The same cannot be said, however, about the Federal Entities’ use of force.”

U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon allowed the plaintiffs to add the federal agencies as defendants, finding that the allegations against Portland police are occurring in the relatively same part of town and there’s “an adequate logical relationship” with the allegations being made against federal officers.

Simon left open the possibility that at some later date, after more evidence is shared, the court might order separate trials if he finds that joining the federal officers with Portland police as defendants in the case would unfairly prejudice the city.

The judge will hear the plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order against the federal officers at a hearing Thursday.

___

© 2020 The Oregonian