Justice Department inspector general investigating agency's responses in Portland and D.C.

Federal law enforcement officers have faced heavy criticism over their treatment of protesters.
Senate Committee On Homeland Security And Governmental Affairs Hears Testimony From Michael Horowitz
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz prepares to testify before the Senate Homeland Security And Governmental Affairs Committee at the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 18.Samuel Corum / Getty Images file

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By Dareh Gregorian

The inspector general for the Justice Department announced Thursday that he was investigating use-of-force allegations against federal law enforcement officers in Portland, Oregon, as well as their response to protesters in Washington, D.C.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz said he had opened the inquiry into the heavily criticized federal response to protests near government buildings in Portland in response to congressional requests and a referral from the U.S. attorney in Oregon.

Oregon's attorney general sued the Department of Homeland Security over the federal response last week, alleging that officers sent to Portland to suppress the Black Lives Matter protests violated the Constitution by unlawfully detaining and arresting demonstrators without probable cause.

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Federal officers "have been using unmarked vehicles to drive around downtown Portland, detain protesters, and place them into the officers' unmarked vehicles, removing them from public without either arresting them or stating the basis for an arrest, since at least Tuesday, July 14," Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum's lawsuit said.

"The identity of the officers is not known, nor is their agency affiliation, according to videos and reports that the officers in question wear military fatigues with patches simply reading 'POLICE,' with no other identifying information," the lawsuit continues.

Federal law enforcement officers, deployed under the Trump administration's executive order to protect federal monuments and buildings, face off with protesters against racial inequality and police violence in Portland, Ore., on Tuesday.Caitlin Ochs / Reuters

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf has maintained that the officers have patches on their uniforms saying which agency they're with, and he denied that they have been arresting people without probable cause. He said they have been targeting only "violent rioters," despite some video evidence to the contrary.

Horowitz said he's coordinating his investigation with the inspector general for Homeland Security.

Horowitz said he's also investigating the federal response against protesters in Washington, D.C., including when law enforcement used force to clear Lafayette Square minutes before a photo opportunity by President Donald Trump.

Horowitz said the reviews "will include examining the training and instruction that was provided to the DOJ law enforcement personnel; compliance with applicable identification requirements, rules of engagement, and legal authorities; and adherence to DOJ policies regarding the use of less-lethal munitions, chemical agents, and other uses of force."

CORRECTION (July 27, 2020, 9:40 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated the organizational status of the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general. His office is part of the Department of Homeland Security, not the Justice Department.