Federal law enforcement officers have used unmarked vehicles to detain protesters in Portland, according to news reports.
Videos shared online show officers driving up to people, detaining individuals without explanation, then driving off, Oregon Public Broadcasting first reported. Officers appeared to detain people who weren’t near federal property, and it isn’t clear that all of those being arrested had committed a crime, according to OPB.
Mark Pettibone, 29, told the Washington Post and OPB that he was among those protesters grabbed off the streets of Portland. Pettibone said he was heading home from a protest with a friend early Wednesday morning when several men in green military fatigues jumped out of an unmarked gray van.
“I was terrified,” Pettibone told the Post. “It seemed like it was out of a horror/sci-fi, like a Philip K. Dick novel. It was like being preyed upon.”
USA TODAY was unable to reach Pettibone Friday.
He ran, but said he was caught, detained and searched. He was taken to a federal courthouse and placed in a holding cell. Officers read him his Miranda rights and he declined to waive those rights and answer questions. Then, he was released with no record of his arrest.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Marshals Service said it was not involved in the incident with Pettibone and did not arrest him. The agency’s personnel who are on the ground in Portland would’ve been visibly identifiable as members of the U.S. Marshals Service.
The agency said the U.S. Marshals Service is involved with protecting federal property in Portland. “Working with our federal law enforcement partners, we will continue to investigate, arrest and prosecute those persons instigating or involved in riots, looting and other violence against persons and property involving the violation of federal law,” the agency said.
The Department of Homeland Security, which also sent officers to Portland, did not respond to a request for comment.
Protests in Oregon’s largest city following the police killing of George Floyd have continued for 47 days. In the past two weeks, federal officers sent to Portland by the Trump administration have escalated tensions, particularly after an officer with the U.S. Marshals Service fired a less-lethal round at a protester’s head on July 11, critically injuring him.
Federal officers fired rounds and deployed tear gas to break up a crowd a few hundred people gathered near the federal courthouse Thursday night, according to The Oregonian. Some protesters remained in the area early Friday and were detained, but it was unclear how many arrests were made by either Portland police or federal officers, the newspaper reported.
President Donald Trump said the city “was totally out of control” and praised efforts to handle the situation at a news conference on Monday.
“We’ve done a great job in Portland,” Trump said. “I guess, we have many people right now in jail, and we very much quelled it. And if it starts again, we’ll quell it again very easily. It’s not hard to do if you know what you’re doing.”
Oregon Governor Kate Brown, Mayor Ted Wheeler and other local leaders have said they didn’t ask for help from federal law enforcement and have asked them to leave.
“We’re aware that they’re here,” Wheeler said on Twitter. “We wish they weren’t.”
Usually when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street we call it kidnapping — what is happening now in Portland should concern everyone in the US.
These actions are flat-out unconstitutional and will not go unanswered. https://t.co/1zS6u05GOK
— ACLU (@ACLU) July 17, 2020
Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf also drew criticism from local leaders when he visited the city Thursday hours after calling the protesters “violent anarchists” and a “violent mob” and saying state and city authorities are to blame for not putting an end to the protests.
“I told Acting Secretary Wolf that the federal government should remove all federal officers from our streets,” Brown said in a tweet. “His response showed me he is on a mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes. He is putting both Oregonians and local law enforcement officers in harm’s way.”
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to questions about media reports on unexplained arrests and the use of unmarked vehicles but said border patrol agents have been deployed to Portland to protect federal property amid ongoing protests.
The Trump administration has sent federal officers to Portland and other cities to address what officials described was destruction of historic monuments. In an executive order last month, Trump decried “rioters, arsonists, and left-wing extremists” and accused them of targeting public monuments, memorials and statues.
In tweets over the past weeks, Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan said Border Patrol agents were assaulted by protesters who threw rocks and used baseball bats to break down the doors of the federal courthouse in Portland. Morgan said the agents “deployed less than lethal force.”
“Criminals, armed with weapons, continue to organize attacks on Federal property in Portland,” Morgan tweeted Thursday, echoing the president’s language. The Trump administration “is committed to supporting law enforcement officers, maintaining law & order, and protecting Americans.”
Contributing: The Associated Press