Watchdog to review conduct of federal agents in Portland and D.C.

Federal officers use crowd control munitions to disperse Black Lives Matter protesters on Tuesday in Portland, Ore.
Federal officers use crowd control munitions to disperse Black Lives Matter protesters outside the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse on Tuesday in Portland, Ore.
(Noah Berger / Associated Press)

The Justice Department inspector general said Thursday that it will conduct a review of the conduct of federal agents who responded to unrest in Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C., following concerns from members of Congress and the public.

The watchdog investigation will examine use-of-force allegations in Portland, where the city’s top federal prosecutor and mayor have publicly complained. In Washington, investigators will look at the training and instruction provided to the federal agents who responded to protests at Lafayette Square, near the White House.

Among the questions being studied are whether the agents followed Justice Department guidelines, including on identification requirements and in the deployment of chemical agents and use of force.

The investigation was announced amid ongoing chaos in Portland, where Mayor Ted Wheeler was tear-gassed by federal agents as he stood outside the courthouse there.

Local authorities in both cities have complained that the presence of federal agents has exacerbated tensions on the streets, while residents have accused the government of violating their constitutional rights.

Civil unrest escalated in Portland after federal agents were accused of whisking people away in unmarked cars without probable cause. And in Washington, peaceful protesters were violently cleared from the streets by federal officers using tear gas.


An iconic image has emerged on Twitter since early Saturday morning in Portland, when a woman wearing nothing but a mask and cap strode toward federal agents as they fired tear gas at protesters — a surreal image of human vulnerability in the face of an overpowering force.

The decision to dispatch federal agents to American cities is playing out at a hyperpoliticized moment when Trump is grasping for a new reelection strategy after the coronavirus upended the economy, dismantling what his campaign had seen as his ticket to a second term.

Democratic officials in New Mexico are warning federal agents sent in by the Trump administration against using ‘military-style’ tactics.

Trump has seized on a moment of spiking violence in some cities, claiming it will only rise if his Democratic rival Joe Biden is elected in November and Democrats have a chance to make the police reforms they have endorsed after the killing of George Floyd and nationwide protests demanding racial justice.

The federal response is likely to be a major topic of discussion next week when Atty. Gen. William Barr appears before the House Judiciary Committee for a hearing.