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Injured Portland protesters file class action lawsuit against federal government

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

Four people who took part in demonstrations in Portland and were exposed to chemical agents or sustained injuries from impact munitions filed a lawsuit Monday against Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and 200 federal law enforcement officers.

Angelica Clark, Ellen Urbani Gass, Nathan West and Rowan Maher are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which alleges that the federal government used excessive force against peaceful protesters. The lawsuit identifies the class as people who protested downtown in July and were exposed to teargas, impact munitions and those who were beaten by federal officers.

The suit claims the Trump administration deployed federal agents unlawfully and that the officers acted outside of their authority by using force against people protesting as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. The lawsuit alleges that federal agents “failed to employ de-escalation strategies or tactics to mitigate violence and protect the rights of peaceable assembly and protest.”

Instead, the lawsuit says, law enforcement escalated nightly violence and used a variety of crowd-control tactics against peaceful protesters. Those tactics included the use of tear gas and flash-bang grenades that clouded the streets and made it difficult for people to safely disperse, the lawsuit says.

“These federal agents used chemical and impact munitions designed for war zones against American civilians,” lawyers for the group said in announcing the lawsuit. “Their actions resulted in hundreds of injuries to peacefully protesting women and men of all races, ages and walks of life.”

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The lawsuit also names Kenneth Cuccinelli, a senior Homeland Security official, as a defendant. Two hundred unnamed agents with the U.S. Marshals Service, the Federal Protective Service, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection were also listed as defendants.

Clark, 28, of Milwaukie, Gass, 51, of West Linn, West , 43, of Portland and Rowan, 25, of Portland, were each injured, according to the suit.

Clark said she took part in more than a dozen demonstrations and said she was shot in the hand with an impact munition, was beaten with a baton and maced by federal agents.

Gass said she was standing “arm-in-arm with other moms” when federal officers used tear gas and shot pepper bullets into the group. She said she was struck by an impact munition in the foot that broke a bone.

West said he and his 16-year-old daughter Beck were protesting near the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse when he said tear gas and “explosive crowd control munitions” were used against the crowd. He said his daughter experienced “significant hearing loss” as a result.

Maher said she was tear-gassed, beaten with a baton and shot in the head with an impact munition, which blew a hole in her bicycle helmet.

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© 2020 The Oregonian