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Video of unidentified agents detaining protester in Portland goes viral

Police in Portland, Oregon respond to protests. (Dave Killen/The Oregonian/TNS)
July 17, 2020

Early Thursday morning, men in camouflage uniforms and generic “POLICE” patches were seen driving around the city of Portland, Oreg., and rounded up at least one protester in an unmarked van and drove away.

“Militarized Federal Agents from a patchwork of outside agencies have begun policing Portland (in rented minivans vans) without the explicit approval of the mayor, the state, or local municipalities. This is what that looks like in practice,” a Twitter user tweeted with footage of the incident.

The footage showed the uniformed men grabbing a protester of the street and placing him in a van before driving off. Those uniformed men did not identify themselves to witnesses.

Further video showed another protester asking who the men were and how people were supposed to know the protesters being rounded up were actually being arrested and not kidnapped.

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“UPDATE: Several attempts were made by this mixed bag of federal officers (Marshals, Border Patrol, HSI) to grab people out of dwindling crowds. At least two people were detained in this manner and both may be released as of this time. Working to confirm.”

In an interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), Mark Pettibone described being detained by some of these unidentified men driving around in unmarked vans. He said he had been walking home from a protest at around 2 a.m. when he had heard other protesters warning about men in uniforms driving around and detaining other protesters.

When Pettibone saw these uniformed men pop out of one van he recalled thinking “Oh shit. I don’t know who you are or what you want with us.”

Pettibone said he was taken away and placed in a cell where two more officers eventually came over to him and read him his Miranda rights. They asked if he would waive those Miranda rights to answer a few questions, but he said he refused and requested a lawyer. Pettibone said within about 90 minutes he was released. Pettibone said he was never given any citation or record of his arrest.

OPB reached out to the U.S. Marshals Service to ask a number of questions about Pettibone’s detainment and the tactics used. The Marshals Service declined to comment on the use of unmarked vehicles for making arrests and denied arresting Pettibone.

“All United States Marshals Service arrestees have public records of arrest documenting their charges,” the Marshal Service said in a statement to OPB. “Our agency did not arrest or detain Mark James Pettibone.”

The incident has sparked concern about the police tactics being used by federal officers.

“You have laws regarding probable cause that can lead to arrests,” Juan Chavez, director of the civil rights project at the Oregon Justice Resource Center told OPB. “It sounds more like abduction. It sounds like they’re kidnapping people off the streets.”

On Thursday, acting Department of Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf has defended the use of federal agents in Portland, providing a list of dozens of arrests stemming from vandalism to courthouses and federal property and assaults on law enforcement officers.

“The city of Portland has been under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob while local political leaders refuse to restore order to protect their city,” Wolf said. “Each night, lawless anarchists destroy and desecrate property, including the federal courthouse, and attack the brave law enforcement officers protecting it.”

Local law enforcement has also been working to stop the establishment of an autonomous protest zone in Portland, Fox News reported. However, while local officials are working towards their own law enforcement objectives for the city, they many have also urged the removal of federal law enforcement agents.

“We do not need or want their help,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said. “The best thing they can do is stay inside their building, or leave Portland altogether.”

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said the arrest methods are part of a larger effort by President Donald Trump to provoke confrontations for political purposes.

“This political theater from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety,” Brown said in a statement. “The President is failing to lead this nation. Now he is deploying federal officers to patrol the streets of Portland in a blatant abuse of power by the federal government.”