The Oregon branch of the ACLU filed a suit against the DHS on Tuesday alongside a series of green groups, who allege the agency has used “an unprecedented amount of dangerous chemical weapons” without regard for their impact on the health of residents or the environment.
“The manner and volume of tear gas and other munitions deployed… has been so excessive and substantial that visible munitions residue and sediment have accumulated in and on Portland’s streets, sidewalks, curbs, bioswales, stormwater system, buildings, and standing water,” the groups said in their complaint, adding that harmful substances “have been transported and conveyed to the Willamette River banks and waters.”
Tear gas and other chemical munitions… have also infiltrated nearby residences, federal and local government buildings, businesses, and parks… [and] may also have permeated Portland’s vegetation.
The plaintiffs cited the DHS’ ‘Operation Diligent Valor’ – which aimed to coordinate federal law enforcement agencies to quell anti-police brutality protests in Portland over the summer – alleging the department did not undertake an “Environmental Assessment” required for operations of that scale.
The ACLU and the others on the suit have requested a declaration from the court that the DHS and its interim head, Chad Wolf, “failed to perform their legal duties,” as well as an injunction that would force the agency to follow its own protocols.
The legal challenge is not the first to target law enforcement use of tear gas in Portland, with another suit brought in July by a group of activists who said federal agents “dressed in military fatigues and toting military gear” had gassed “peaceful protesters,” as well as “made unlawful arrests without probable cause, and otherwise used violence in an effort to stamp out peaceful and constitutionally protected protesters.” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler later banned local officers from using CS gas for crowd control, mirroring a similar order by the Seattle city government, though the latter move was ultimately overturned by a federal judge.
Kicked off after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in May, demonstrations in Portland have raged on for months and show little sign of abating, with regular clashes between activists and law enforcement, as well as periodic rioting and vandalism in the city’s downtown area. Though the protests have calmed since their peak over the summer, which saw activists besiege a federal courthouse every night for weeks on end, demonstrators continue to take to the streets, where they were again filmed skirmishing with police as recently as last Sunday.
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