The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Department of Homeland Security over its use of chemical munitions in Portland. Photo by Doug Brown/ACLU of Oregon
Oct. 21 (UPI) -- A coalition of environmental, public health and social justice groups in Oregon has sued the Department of Homeland Security over its use of tear gas and chemical weapons to quell protests in Portland, accusing the federal agency of creating "potentially grave health and environmental hazards."
Filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon on Tuesday in an Oregon district court, the lawsuit accuses the DHS of breaking environmental law when its agents of Operation Diligent Valor deployed an "unprecedented amount of dangerous chemical weapons" to disperse protests against police brutality and racial inequality.
The complaint accuses the federal agency of deploying the chemical munitions without preparing an environmental assessment and an environmental impact statement as mandated for major federal actions by the National Environmental Policy Act.
"In short, NEPA required Defendants to consider the potentially severe environmental and human health impacts of Operation Diligent Valor, but they did not do so. And they continue to abdicate that responsibility to Plaintiffs and the public," the lawsuit states.
Operation Diligent Valor was deployed July 4 to Portland in a bid to protect federal buildings amid months-long protests that erupted in response to the police-involved killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day.
The plaintiffs Neighbors for Clean Air, Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, Cascadia Wildlands, 350PDX and Willamette Riverkeeper said in the lawsuit that the chemical weapons and tear gas used during the operation have "infiltrated" nearby residences, buildings and parks and may have permeated the city's vegetation.
"The manner and volume of tear gas and other munitions deployed in relation to Operation Diligent Valor in Portland has been so excessive and substantial that visible munitions residue and sediment have accumulated in and on Portland's streets, sidewalks, curbs, bioswales, stormwater system, buildings and standing water," the lawsuit said.
Kelly Simon, interim legal director at ACLU Oregon, equated environmental justice with racial justice in a statement, saying that they both disproportionally deny minorities the right to a safe and healthy community.
"The large volumes of tear gas and other chemical weapons that federal officers recklessly and thoughtlessly unleashed in Portland is yet more evidence of the Trump administration's racist disregard for public health and a safe living environment," Simon said. "So, we will see them in court, again."
The coalition is seeking an injunction forcing the DHS to stop using chemical munitions, including tear gas, until the proper studies and analysis as mandated by the NEPA are completed.
The ACLU has already filed lawsuits against DHS and other federal agencies over its response to protests in Portland.
On July 22, it filed a lawsuit accusing the federal agency of targeting and attacking several volunteer street medics. The lawyers group was also awarded a court order prohibiting law enforcement from attacking journalists and legal observers in Portland amid the protests.
Protect Democracy later in July also filed a lawsuit against the DHS, its leaders and other federal agencies, accusing them of exceeding their authority in Portland with Operation Diligent Valor.
The lawsuit claims agents deployed in Operation Diligent Valor exceeded their authority to protect federal buildings by making arrests, injuring protesters and firing tear gas.