July 24 (UPI) -- A federal judge has issued an order barring federal agents from arresting or using physical force against journalists and legal observers without just cause amid ongoing protests in Portland, Ore.
U.S. District Judge Michael Simon on Thursday issued a temporary restraining order against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, unidentified federal officers and others accused of intentionally targeting journalists and observers at protests in the city, which have gone on for nearly two months.
The class action suit was filed by the publishers of The Portland Mercury, a bi-weekly alternative newspaper, and is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Eight journalists in the suit say they were targeted by federal officers with non-lethal munitions and tear gas -- in one case at a location blocks away from the protest sites, even though they were committing no crimes.
In his 22-page order, Simon enjoined federal officers that were sent to Portland and other cities by the Trump administration from intentionally using force against journalists and photographers wearing a visible "press" insignia, as well as clearly identified legal observers, such as those sent by the ACLU.
He also warned that violators will not be shielded from lawsuits under the "qualified immunity" doctrine.
Justice Department Attorney Andrew Warden had argued that federal officers can't readily distinguish press members from violent demonstrators under the conditions of a protest, and that reporters are guaranteed "no special rights of access above and beyond the public."
Simon, however, disagreed.
"The plaintiffs were identifiable as press, not engaging in unlawful activity or protesting, were not standing near protesters, and yet were subject to violence by federal agents," he wrote. "Contrary to the [defendants'] arguments, this evidence does not support that the force used on plaintiffs were 'unintended consequences' of crowd control."
The suit is separate from another filed by the ACLU this week that accuses local and federal law enforcement of targeting and attacking volunteer street medics during the protests in Portland.