DOJ fighting order that protects journalists during Portland protests

The Department of Justice wants to lift a judge’s order that protects journalists during the chaotic Portland protests — calling it “an instrument of wrong” and claiming some are “masquerading” as scribes in order to commit illegal acts.

The temporary restraining order was issued last week and bars federal agents in the city from targeting the press, as well as allows journalists to remain in place when crowds are ordered to disperse, Politico reported.

But the Justice Department is fighting the order by Oregon federal court Judge Michael Simon, in filings Thursday.

“Individuals are abusing the TRO to masquerade as members of the press and evade lawful orders, or actively participating in protest activities and even illegal acts while holding themselves out to be members of the press under the protection of the TRO,” their lawyers wrote.

“Even individuals who are not expressly taking advantage of the TRO are often within crowds of protesters or between officers and active protesters making it incredibly difficult and dangerous to observe the restrictions while implementing crowd control measures.”

The Justice Department lawyers added, “Savvy protesters abuse the TRO to evade lawful orders, impede law enforcement, and perpetrate crimes. The TRO has become ‘an instrument of wrong,’ and must be dissolved,” DOJ attorneys argued.

The filing also includes declarations from seven senior officials and officers claiming protesters wearing “press” badges have assaulted officers, interfered with them, damaged the fence surrounding the federal Mark O. Hatfield courthouse, or tried to scale it, Politico said.

It also cited an online video allegedly showing a purported journalist at the protests saying they have “a bunch more press passes to give out to people.”

Matthew Borden, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Oregon chapter, which is part of the case, said doling out fake press passes was “ill-advised and rare” but that it “is not probable cause for arrest or dispersal, or justification for brutally and deliberately attacking reporters.”

“The restraining order simply orders federal agents to abide by the law, which is to not arrest, threaten to arrest, or use physical force against journalist unless the government has probable cause to believe that such individual has committed a crime,” Borden told Politico in a statement. “If the government objects to the order, they’re making clear what is already known: the government has no intention of following the law.”

The filing comes on the heels of a deal brokered between Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and the Department of Homeland Security to withdraw federal agents from Portland in phases, with state law enforcement tasked with setting up and maintaining a perimeter around the courthouse.

A court hearing is scheduled in the case Friday morning.

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