After fires and fence damage outside downtown federal courthouse, Portland police declare unlawful assembly

Protester seen sawing base of fence outside courthouse, KPTV image 

PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) – For another night, demonstrators went to downtown Portland to protest police brutality and racial injustice.

On Thursday, more than a thousand people gathered outside the Justice Center and Federal Courthouse. For several hours in the evening, police said the crowd demonstrated and blocked traffic.

The Portland NAACP hosted an event in front of the Justice Center to bring focus back to the Black Lives Matter movement called “Portland: Let’s Get Protests Back on Track.”

By 9 p.m., the crowd had grown with the addition of the “Wall of Moms,” a protesting group of mothers who has gained attention for their bright shirts and locked arms.

Around 11 p.m., protesters were seen throwing items over the fence surrounding the courthouse and minutes later federal officers were heard over a speaker telling them to stop.

According to police, fires were set inside the fence at that time and other protesters were seen shaking the fence.

Police said several people breached the fence, prompting federal officers to come out of the courthouse. While officers dispersed the group, police said they were “hit with large projectiles, various incendiaries, and flashed with lasers.”

About an hour and a half later, a group was seen trying to saw the fence from its base in an attempt to bring it down.

Just before 1 a.m. Friday, a FOX 12 crew saw the first incident of tear gas during the demonstration outside the courthouse.

Minutes later, a panel of the fence had been breached, though the FOX 12 crew saw no additional reaction from federal officers.

Police said commercial grade fireworks were launched towards the courthouse and federal officers once again dispersed the crowd.

By 2 a.m., Portland police had declared an unlawful assembly outside the courthouse. Anyone in the area was told to leave and were warned that failure to comply could end in “arrest or citation, or riot control agents, including tear gas and/or impact weapons.”

Police said many people remained in the area and “continued to light fires, and destruct federal courthouse property.”

After a while, protesters dispersed from downtown.

Police said the only time PPB officers were present in the overnight demonstrations was when they used the sound truck.

PPB said its officers didn’t engage with protesters otherwise and did not deploy any tear gas. No arrests in connection with the protest were made by Portland police.

The unlawful assembly declaration came one day after police declared a riot in the same area.

On Friday morning, FOX 12 got an inside look behind the fence that surrounds the courthouse. Umbrellas, water bottles and other trash thrown over the fence by protesters were seen scattered across the ground.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Asphaug, who has worked at the building for 16 years, said he is “heartbroken” to see the state of the exterior of the courthouse.

“This building represents justice for everybody that's here. Every month we have immigrants who come to become citizens here. The lawsuits that are going to be filed by the people out here saying their rights are being violated are going to be heard in this building, and it’s now just a target, and it’s heartbreaking,” Asphaug said.

U.S Attorney Billy Williams gave his take on the protests: “There’s change needed so this is one of those moments in history where it can occur but its being held back by this. This is just mindless violence and it’s been politicized and in my view that’s what enables this to continue because no one in their right mind thinks this is OK.”

“Blaming federal agents for protecting federal property is an easy out for people who want to politicize this,” Williams said. “Portland is losing its soul right now.”

The U.S. Attorney's Office - District of Oregon reported that 18 people were arrested this week by federal officers for criminal activity during protests around the federal courthouse.

The office said court documents state that since May 26, protests in downtown Portland “have been followed by nightly criminal activity including assaults on law enforcement officers, destruction of property, looting, arson, and vandalism.”

The federal courthouse has been a routine target of vandalism during evening protests and riots, and has sustained “extensive damage,” the office said.

“U.S. Marshals Service deputies and officers from the Federal Protective Service, Homeland Security Investigations, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection working to protect the courthouse have been subjected to nightly threats and assaults from demonstrators while performing their duties,” the office stated.

The 18 arrests were made between the beginning of Monday’s protest and the conclusion of demonstrating in the early morning hours of Thursday. The office did not report any arrests made between Thursday evening and Friday morning.

The office said that those arrested are all believed to be local residents.

Copyright 2020 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

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