Justice Department lawyers request TRO protecting journalists lifted, claim impostors abuse protections

Portland marks non-violent night of protests after state and local police step in

William La Jeunesse reports from Portland with an update after the federal government reaches an agreement with the state and city on managing the violence.

Justice Department lawyers have asked for courts to lift an order protecting journalists from arrest, claiming that instigators are masquerading as members of the press, according to reports.

DOJ lawyers submitted filings on Thursday that called for U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon to lift his temporary restraining order (TRO) that forbids federal authorities from targeting the press, Politico reported. The government’s request follows a deal between the Trump administration and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to settle the violence occurring around the federal courthouse in Portland.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon filed a lawsuit on behalf of journalists and legal observers on July 17, and the TRO was issued July 24 and set to last 14 days. Federal agents claimed that journalists were incidentally caught in the middle of efforts by officials to stop violence.

“Plaintiffs’ declarations describe situations including that they were identifiable as press, were not engaging in unlawful activity or protesting, were not standing near protesters, and yet were subject to violence by federal agents,” Simon wrote. “Contrary to the Federal Defendants’ arguments, this evidence does not support that the force used on Plaintiffs were ‘unintended consequences’ of crowd control.”

However, the federal government has further claimed now that individuals seeking to incite violence and make worse the situation in Portland are taking advantage of the TRO.

Federal agents arrest a demonstrator during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

“Individuals are abusing the TRO to masquerade as members of the press and evade lawful orders, or actively participating in protest activities and even illegal acts while holding themselves out to be members of the press under the protection of the TRO,” Justice Department lawyers wrote.

“Savvy protesters abuse the TRO to evade lawful orders, impede law enforcement, and perpetrate crimes. The TRO has become ‘an instrument of wrong,’ and must be dissolved,” DOJ attorneys argued.

A demonstrator tries to shield himself from tear gas deployed by federal agents during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Officials claimed that in one incident over the previous week, an individual with “press” lettering on his clothes was detained and was carrying a pistol, Politico reported.

Another Internet video cited in the filing allegedly includes a purported journalist at the protests declaring that he or she has “a bunch more press passes to give out to people.”

Opposing council Matthew Borden responded that protesters “masquerading as press” are both “ill-advised and rare,” but any such behavior “is not probably cause for arrest or dispersal, or justification for brutally and deliberately attacking reporters.”


"The restraining order simply orders federal agents to abide by the law, which is to not arrest, threaten to arrest, or use physical force against journalist unless the government has probable cause to believe that such individual has committed a crime," Borden said in a statement.

"If the government objects to the order, they’re making clear what is already known: the government has no intention of following the law."

Attorney Andrew Warden of the U.S Department of Justice had argued during the original TRO filing that federal officers can’t stop to figure out who’s a member of the press or a legal observer when fireworks were being shot at them or lasers were shined in their eyes, according to The Oregonian.


He added that agents need to make quick decisions and it would be too hard to determine who the peaceful protesters from violent ones.

David Aaro contributed to this report. 

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