Federal Government Sued Again Amid Role in 2020 Portland Protests

Protestors are seeking compensation for damages and injuries sustained at the hands of federal officers during the 2020 protests that followed the death of George Floyd. A federal lawsuit was filed last Tuesday in the U.S. District Court.

George Floyd was murdered by police in May 2020 in his native Minneapolis, resulting in nationwide protests all over the United States, with protesters condemning the rising reports of police brutality. Portland was one of the cities to hold such protests, with many turning into dangerous clashes between federal officers and protestors outside the federal courthouse in downtown Portland. Throughout the summer of 2020, many were injured in these skirmishes, with some incurring life-altering injuries like Donavan Labella, who was shot in the head with impact munition.

Lawsuits have been filed in the past against federal law agencies for their role in the protests, such as the U.S. Marshals office and the Department of Homeland Security, but with little to no success. However, attorneys defending various groups of protesters now believe that, following a new legal opinion issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022, the federal government is more likely to be held accountable for its actions during the Portland protests.

Ellen Urbani, Nathaniel West, and Rowan Maher are the names put forward on the charges against the federal government; they will be acting on behalf of a total of 162 protesters.


Mistakes Were Made

The federal government sent around 700 officers to Portland to control the protests and protect federal buildings. The continued argument from those seeking justice is that law enforcement officers instead impeded their right to protest, incited violence, and turned a non-violent protest into a violent altercation, with multiple reports of unprovoked violence, use of tear gas, and an overall mishandling of the situation.

It has come out since that the federal government was indeed ill-prepared for the 2020 Portland protests, with a report from the Department of Homeland Security stating that many of the 700 officers sent had never received any kind of crowd-control training and should never have been put in such a situation.

Many federal officers have been tried as individuals for their heavy-handedness used during those hot summer evenings in downtown Portland. It’s alleged that batons broke more bones than were necessary, and gas-filled the lungs of those only acting peacefully on their constitutional rights. It’s even contested in several instances that protestors were abducted from the streets by officers, but despite all the witnesses and charges, no officer was ever held responsible.


What a difference a year makes

It seemed like the protests of 2020 would just fade away to time, as the world regained some sense of normality in the three years since. Defendants tried for justice, but it was not to be, the federal government was telling the city of Portland to move on. Nothing more could be done, yet something changed.

In 2022, the case of Egbert v. Boule concluded and with it came dramatic changes to the protection of federal government officials. That change was a refusal to recognise a claim that had so often been a lifeline which had gotten many federal agents out of a jam, the dismissal of a ‘Bivens claim’.


Bivens Claim

‘Bivens claim was a claim that gave federal officials a sort of impunity when it came to interacting with the public. Officials could not commit crimes, but they were protected when they made mistakes or an error in judgement. In theory it seems relatively simple, but in reality, these two things can sometimes overlap falling into a sort of grey zone between mistake and crime.

Egbert v. Boule was the first time a Bivens claim was rejected, when ????? since the 2022 decision ignoring the claim has become the norm with courts citing the case and continuing then new precedent.

However, just because the Bivens claim is being refuted it doesn’t automatically mean the federal government will be found guilty under this new legal argument. It’s just no longer as easy to dismiss a trial against the federal government or its representatives as it was by claiming Bivens claim. The reality is that the cases that have been ignoring the claim are on a much smaller scale than a case against the federal government; usually being cases between prisoners and correctional officers or less frequently between individuals similarly to Egbert v. Boule.

There’s no telling what these new Inquests will find. It may find the federal government was within its right to use the force it decided to use, or it may find that the federal government did violate the rights of the citizens of Portland. All that is known for certain is these legal battles from Portland could have wider ramifications for the rest of the United States.

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