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Federal agents sent to Portland to defend courthouse weren’t properly designated for role, may not have received training, report says

Thousands of protesters gathered in downtown Portland Saturday, July 25, 2020, for the 59th consecutive night of protests. (Dave Killen / staff/TNS)

Federal agents sent to help protect the downtown courthouse this summer in Portland were not properly designated for the law enforcement role and may not have received proper training to act in that capacity, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General.

The office, in a report released Monday night on the eve of Election Day, identified several people who deployed to Portland but whom the Federal Protective Service could not confirm received training on the federal code that gives the Homeland Security secretary the power to grant law enforcement authority to officers for the protection of federal property.

Several federal agents also were sent to Portland before they received the training, the inspector general’s office found.

The director of the Federal Protective Service did not properly designate officers who were sent in July to Portland as part of the federal government’s “Operation Diligent Valor,” to safeguard the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse during protests against racial injustice and police violence, the inspector general’s office found.

The director needed to identify the officers by name but failed to do so, its report said.

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President Donald Trump had sent at least 114 federal officers from the U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to bolster Federal Protective Service workers at the courthouse in early July after some demonstrators on July 3 tried to barricade the front doors of the courthouse and they shattered.

The Federal Protective Service director acknowledged that his document “erroneously referenced rosters of employees to be designated” but no attached list of personnel was ever provided.

The director blamed the short time provided and the “broad requirements,” and claimed the agency confirmed attendance of officers at the conclusion of their special training, according to the inspector general’s office report.

But the inspector general’s office found the approach meant it was “impossible to identify which particular employees he designated,” for law enforcement protection of the federal property and the people inside.

Law enforcement that were deployed to Portland from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, for example, typically lack the law enforcement scope of authority, the inspector general’s office noted.

The Federal Protective Service argued there’s no legal or policy requirements on how these federal officers are cross designated to protect federal property. The service said the officers met the basic requirements and received proper training.

The inspector general’s office agreed there’s no prescribed way for the designation of these federal officers but identified concerns on how it was done.

Since no names were expressly designated, “it is not possible to identify anyone he designated (e.g., indicated, set apart, or chose) to exercise authority under this statute,” and the training wasn’t required as a pre-requisite for the designation, the report said.

The process made it impossible for “anyone to discern, who, exactly, the FPS Director sought to designate,” the report said.

The inspector general found the Federal Protective Service did not describe a process that conditioned designation on attending training or satisfying any other requirement, but instead “unequivocally” designated unnamed officers.

Since this was improper, the officers sent to Portland lacked authority, the inspector general found.

The inspector general’s office made two recommendations to the the Homeland Security agency: have the acting secretary ensure that the Federal Protective Service director or anyone else seeking to designate DHS employees for the law enforcement role has the proper authority to do so; and have the Federal Protective Service director designate each employee by name when authorizing a federal officer to protect federal property and the persons on it.

Kelly Simon, interim legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, said the report supports the ACLU’s and other plaintiffs’ allegations against federal officers, accused in multiple civil suits of exercising indiscriminate and excessive force against demonstrators this summer outside the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse.

“This is further proof of federal government lawlessness in Portland, plain and simple,” Simon said in a prepared statement. “We’ve filed four lawsuits against the Department of Homeland Security for its brutality and destruction during these protests, and are determined to hold officials accountable for their unconstitutional and unlawful conduct. Violent policing must end, and we will be in the streets and courts until it does.”

Federal officers have fired tear gas and impact munitions at crowds and journalists during the city’s protests. They have struck some protesters with batons, fired an impact munition at the head of a 26-year-old protester who had his hands above his head holding a music speaker, and plucked at least one person from a city street and whisked him off in an unmarked van only to release him later with no charges.

The inspector general’s report noted that the Federal Protective Service did take steps in October to alter its process, sending letters signed by its director to those who participated in training.

The Federal Protective Service provided training to more than 5,700 officers this year to be designated under the law enforcement code. According to the Service, those who took this training in October 2020 received designation letters signed by the Federal Protective Service director. But for those who took this training before October 2020, someone other than Federal Protective Service director placed them on a list of officers who were designated for the law enforcement authority.

“We identified no delegated authority permitting this approach to designation,” the inspector general’s office found.

The recommendations remain unresolved “until we receive documentation that the FPS Director or his designee,” properly designates DHS employees under the law enforcement authority code, by name, to protect federal property, the inspector general’s office wrote.

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(c) 2020 The Oregonian

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.