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22 arrested in Portland protest; activists accuse feds of exceeding power

July 28 (UPI) -- Federal officers arrested 22 people over the weekend during protests at a Portland courthouse, Oregon prosecutors said as pro-democracy groups filed a lawsuit arguing federal law enforcement officers have exceeded the limits of their authority.

U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams announced the arrests in a news release Monday, stating the nearly two dozen suspects face federal charges related to protests from Thursday to Monday morning at Portland's Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse.

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Since May 26, the courthouse has been a focal point for protests against police brutality and racial inequality as demonstrators were spurred to the streets following the Memorial Day police-involved killing of George Floyd.

Williams' release said that since the protests began, the courthouse has been the target of vandalism, sustaining extensive damage.

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President Donald Trump has sent federal agents to the city despite pushback from local politicians under a late June executive order he signed to protect statues, monuments and other federal property amid the protests that ignited nationwide after Floyd, an unarmed Black man, died after being pinned to the ground for more than eight minutes by the knee of a White police officer in Minneapolis.

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Agents with the U.S. Marshals Service, Federal Protective Service, Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Customs and Border Protection stationed to protect the courthouse have been threatened and assaulted during the protests, the U.S. Attorneys' Office for the District of Oregon said.

The Department of Homeland Security has said several officers have been injured during the protests, with Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the agency, stating on Twitter Monday that at least 20 agents had been injured over the weekend.

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"This isn't a myth," DHS said via Twitter. "These are actual injuries suffered by actual federal officers."

Of the nearly two dozen people arrested over the weekend, six were charted over Thursday night and into Friday morning, three for assaulting federal officers and three others for failing to obey lawful orders.

On Friday, agents with Homeland Security Investigations and Border Protection arrested Canadian citizen Ronald Bernard Hickey, 44, for harassing and stalking federal employees of the Federal Protective Service by allegedly releasing their personal information through his Twitter account.

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Over Saturday and into Sunday, eight people were arrested, seven of whom were charged with assaulting federal officers and one for operating a drone in restricted airspace.

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And seven people were charged over Sunday and into Monday morning with assaulting federal officers.

The charges were announced as Protect Democracy, along with several law firms, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Don't Shoot Portland activist organization and the Wall of Moms group against DHS, its leaders and several other federal agencies, accusing their agents of exceeding their authority to protect federal buildings.

According to the complaint, the groups accuse federal agents dressed in military fatigues of tear-gassing, unlawfully arresting and injuring peaceful protesters in violation of their constitutional rights, including their freedom of speech and assembly, among others.

"They have been shot at over and over -- with rubber bullets, bean bags, pepper spray and a range of other projectiles fired at close range and with brutal effect," the complaint states. "They have had flash-bang devices detonated right in front of them. They have been forced to speak and assemble in fear of not just bodily harm but the possibility of sudden arrest without probable cause."

The plaintiffs said that Operation Diligent Valor, which saw the federal agents sent to Portland on July 4, exceeds the bounds of what the law authorizes -- to protect federal property.

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They also accuse Wolf of illegally being in his role of acting secretary of Homeland Security as he has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.

The lawsuit follows the American Civil Liberties Union filing a suit last week accusing local and federal law enforcement agencies of targeting and attacking volunteer street medics in the Portland protests. Earlier this month, the ACLU was awarded a court order prohibiting local law enforcement from attacking journalists and legal observers.

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