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Portland protesters file class action lawsuit against federal government

Each of the four attended protests and sustained injuries, according to the suit. The lawsuit alleges the actions by federal agents were unconstitutional.
Credit: AP
A demonstrator tries to shield himself from tear gas deployed by federal agents during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

PORTLAND, Oregon — A group of demonstrators who were injured while participating in Black Lives Matter protests filed a class action lawsuit on Monday, alleging the actions taken by federal agents deployed in Portland were unconstitutional.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, and lists acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Chad Wolf, Senior Official for the DHS Kenneth Cuccinelli and 200 unnamed federal agents as defendants.

Federal agents were deployed in Portland on July 4 by President Trump to "quell" the protests, and in the following weeks, the agents fired pepper balls, flash bangs and tear gas at protesters on multiple occasions.

The lawsuit alleges the Trump administration unlawfully deployed federal agents, who "operated beyond their authority, by using unconstitutional and unnecessary force against Black Lives Matter protesters."

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"These federal agents used chemical and impact munitions designed for war zones against American civilians," the group's lawyers wrote in the announcement of the suit. "Their actions resulted in hundreds of injuries to peacefully protesting women and men of all races, ages and walks of life."

The four plaintiffs listed on the class action suit are:

  • Angelica Clark, a 28-year-old student of social work and sociology from Milwaukie.
  • Ellen Urbani Gass, a 51-year-old mother and author from West Linn.
  • Nathaniel West, the 43-year-old founder of Reverend Nat's Hard Cider in Portland.
  • Rowan Maher, a 25-year-old legal assistant from Portland.

Each of the four attended protests when the federal agents were present, and sustained injuries, according to the lawsuit.

Clark attended a demonstration on Saturday, July 25, when, according to the suit, she was shot in the hand with munition, beaten with a baton and maced by federal agents while trying to walk away.

"We are showing up for change and liberty for all and are met with oppression and injustice. How can we uplift Black lives when we are gassed, shot, assaulted, and maced simply for standing up for our basic rights?" asked Clark in a statement through the lawyers. "I don’t understand how people can sit back and justify that this is deserved or OK."

Urbani Gass joined the Wall of Moms (now Moms United for Black Lives) on Friday, July 24. According to the suit, federal agents deployed tear gas as she and the other moms stood arm-in-arm. Then, an agent shot her foot out from under her with impact munitions, breaking a bone.

"I was in shock," she explained in a statement. "Those officers are sworn to serve and protect. They could clearly see we were not a threat. We were holding sunflowers and wearing clothing that represented us as Moms. I’m all about non-violence; I was there to help lift up my community. The violence we were met with that day mirrors the historic violence against Black people that we were there protesting against."

West and his 16-year-old daughter were protesting on Saturday, July 25. According to the suit, federal agents deployed tear gas and explosive crowd control munitions, hitting them both at almost point-blank range and leaving Beck with a hole in her eardrum.

"We felt summoned to show up and the response by the feds was truly astonishing," explained West in a statement. "In the big picture though, its just one example of the constant attacks that the Black community has experienced for hundreds of years. That’s why we’ll keep showing up."

Maher joined the protests on Tuesday, July 21. According to the suit, she was tear-gassed, beaten by a baton and shot in the head by a less-lethal munition, leaving a hole in her bicycle helmet.

"I could have been killed or maimed simply for exercising my right to protest peacefully in support of Black lives," said Maher in a statement through her lawyers. "The violence that I experienced at the hands of federal agents is nothing new. It is the violence that has been practiced with impunity in Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities throughout our country’s history. Holding these agents accountable for their actions is one small step towards building a world in which our Black, Brown, and Indigenous community members do not have to fear for their lives each time they leave their homes."

The lawsuit asks the court to declare these actions by federal agents unconstitutional, and "to award unspecified compensatory and punitive damages to each peaceful protester subjected to chemical munitions."

RELATED: Journalist shot in the face with impact munition by federal agents during Portland protest