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Portland Protesters Say They’re Being Detained by Federal Agents in Unmarked Cars

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  • According to personal accounts and videos posted online, federal law enforcement officers in Portland have been driving around in unmarked vehicles and detaining people on the street without explanation.
  • The move comes amid days of escalating tensions between protesters and the federal agents deployed by President Trump to quell demonstrations against racial injustice and police brutality.
  • State and local officials have continually asked the Trump administration to remove the feds, who they say have made the situation worse and more violent by clashing with the demonstrators and firing tear gas and munitions.
  • However, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security has said he will not remove his agents, and earlier this week, Trump praised their efforts, falsely claiming that many people had been jailed and that the protests had stopped.

Feds in Unmarked Vehicles

Unidentified federal law enforcement agents in unmarked vehicles have been grabbing protesters off the street in Portland, Oregon since at least July 14, according to local reports.

Multiple videos posted online show the law enforcement officers driving up to people, detaining them without explanation, and then driving off, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OBP) reported Thursday. 

Personal accounts given to the media also support the allegations. According to interviews conducted by OPB, the agents have detained people involved in the ongoing demonstrations against racial injustice and police brutality.

Some of the individuals detained were not near federal property, and it is unclear if the people being arrested committed any crimes.

Demonstrators Mark Pettibone and Conner O’Shea told reporters that they were walking home in the early hours of Wednesday when a group of people warned them that people in camouflage were driving around in unmarked cars and taking people off the street.

Minutes later, an unmarked minivan pulled up in front of them, and several armed people in camouflage and body armor got out.

“I was terrified,” Pettibone told The Washington Post. “It was like being preyed upon.”

Both men told reporters that they ran when they encountered the mysterious agents. O’Shea, who said he was pursued by a second unmarked van, filmed the dark scene.

“Feds are driving around, grabbing people off the streets,” O’Shea said in the video, given by OPB, which verified that the metadata confirmed the time and place of the protesters’ story. “I didn’t do anything fucking wrong. I’m recording this. I had to let somebody know that this is what happens.”

Pettibone, however, was unable to escape the feds. 

“I am basically tossed into the van,” Pettibone said to OPB. “And I had my beanie pulled over my face so I couldn’t see and they held my hands over my head.”

He said the agents, who never identified themselves, drove him to a federal courthouse and placed him in a holding cell. Eventually, two officers went to the cell and read him his Miranda rights. They asked if he would waive his rights and answer some questions, but he declined and asked for a lawyer.

The officers responded by ending the interview and releasing Pettibone, who said that they would not tell him why he had been arrested or provide him with any record of his arrest.

While both he and O’Shea said they regularly attend protests, neither could think of anything they had done that would make them targets of law enforcement.

The two men told OPD they believed the feds went after them simply because they were near a protest and wearing black. 

Escalating Tensions

The new allegations come amid escalating tensions brought by the presence of federal officers from the U.S. Marshals Service and Department of Homeland Security, which were deployed to the streets of Portland by President Donald Trump in response to the weeks of ongoing protests in the city.

The agents, who are supposed to protect federal property, have continually clashed violently with protesters. They have frequently deployed tear gas, even though a recent law prohibits the Portland police from using the chemical unless there is a clear safety risk.

On Saturday, Marshals Service officers shot a peaceful protester in the face with so-called “less-than-lethal” munitions. Photos and videos of the incident circulated online showed the man in the street bleeding from his head. According to reports, he was hospitalized with a skull fracture.

State and local leaders have repeatedly called on federal authorities and the Trump administration to remove the agents, whose presence they never requested in the first place. Those calls have grown with the recent escalations.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is also police commissioner, has called the federal response “irresponsible” and demanded that the feds stay inside federal buildings or leave the city. Separately, Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese has said that the federal response is a “significant setback” in the efforts to ease tensions.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) also accused the agents of making the situation worse, saying in a tweet on Thursday that the “shadowy forces have been escalating, not preventing, violence.”

Clashes With the Trump Administration

Others have also accused President Trump of deploying the federal officers for his own political gain.

“This political theater from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in a tweet on Thursday. “The President is failing to lead this nation. Now he is deploying federal officers to patrol the streets of Portland in a blatant abuse of power by the federal government.”

Brown also took aim at acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.

“He is on a mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes,” she wrote. “He is putting both Oregonians and local law enforcement officers in harm’s way.”

Those remarks were also echoed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who referred to the feds as “Donald Trump’s secret police” in a tweet Thursday.

“Now Trump and Chad Wolf are weaponizing the DHS as their own occupying army to provoke violence on the streets of my hometown because they think it plays well with right-wing media,” he added.

However, both Trump and Wolf have made it clear that they plan to ignore the officials’ calls.

During an interview with Fox News on Thursday, Wolf said that he was well aware that local and state leaders wanted federal authorities to “pack up and go home,” but added, “that’s just not gonna happen on my watch.”

President Trump, for his part, praised the federal efforts during a press conference Monday.

“We’ve done a great job in Portland,” Trump said. “I guess, we have many people right now in jail, and we very much quelled it. And if it starts again, we’ll quell it again very easily. It’s not hard to do if you know what you’re doing.”

According to reports, only about a dozen people have been arrested, and the protests have continued throughout the week with violent confrontations between protesters and federal law enforcement.

See what others are saying: (Oregon Public Broadcasting) (The Washington Post) (The New York Times)

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Purdue Pharma Agrees To Plead Guilty To 3 Opioid-Related Charges in $8B Settlement, But Don’t Expect Them To Pay the Full Amount

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  • As part of a more than $8 billion settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, Purdue Pharma will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and two counts of violating anti-kickback, or bribery, laws.
  • Because Purdue filed for bankruptcy last year, that full figure likely won’t be collected by the government.
  • Under the settlement, which will need approval in bankruptcy court, Purdue would become a public benefit corporation that is controlled by the government, with revenue from opioid sales being used to fund treatment options and programs.
  • A number of state attorneys generals and Democratic lawmakers have said the settlement does not hold Purdue or its owners fully accountable and could derail thousands of other cases against the company.
  • They have also argued that the government should “avoid having special ties to an opioid company… that caused a national crisis.”

Purdue to Plead Guilty to 3 Criminal Charges

The Justice Department announced Wednesday that Purdue Pharma has agreed to plead guilty to three criminal charges related to fueling the country’s opioid epidemic. 

Notably, those guilty pleas come as part of a massive settlement worth more than $8 billion, though Purdue will likely only pay a fraction of that amount to the government.

Purdue is the manufacturer of oxycontin, which is a powerful and addictive painkiller that’s believed to have driven the opioid crisis. Since 2000, opioid addiction and overdoses have been linked to more than 470,000 deaths. 

As part of the settlement, Purdue will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. There, it will admit that it lied to the Drug Enforcement Administration by claiming that it had maintained an effective program to avoid opioid misuse. It will also admit to reporting misleading information to the DEA in order to increase its manufacturing quotas.

While Purdue originally told the DEA that it had “robust controls” to avoid opioid misuse, according to the Justice Department, it had “disregard[ed] red flags their own systems were sending up.”

Along with that guilty plea, Purdue will also plead guilty to two anti-kickback, or bribery, related charges. In one charge, it will admit to violating federal law by paying doctors to write more opioid prescriptions. In the other, it will admit to using electronic health records software to increase opioid prescriptions.

According to a copy of the plea deal obtained by the Associated Press, Purdue “knowingly and intentionally conspired and agreed with others to aid and abet” the distribution of opioids from doctors “without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional practice.”

The $8 billion in settlements will be split several different ways.

In one deal, the Sackler family — which owns Purdue — will pay $225 million to resolve civil fines. 

As part of the main deal, another $225 million will go directly to the federal government in a larger $2 billion criminal forfeiture; however, the government is actually expected to forego the rest of that figure.

In addition to that, $2.8 billion will go to resolving Purdue’s civil liability. Another $3.54 billion will go to criminal fines, but because Purdue filed bankruptcy last year, these figures also likely won’t be fully collected — largely because the government will now have to compete with other claims against Purdue in bankruptcy court.”

Purdue Will Become a “Public Benefit Company”

Since Purdue is in the middle of bankruptcy proceedings, a bankruptcy court will also need to approve the settlement.

“The agreed resolution, if approved by the courts, will require that the company be dissolved and no longer exist in its present form,” Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said. 

However, that doesn’t mean that Purdue’s fully gone or that it will even stop making oxycontin. In fact, as part of this settlement, the Sacklers would relinquish ownership of Purdue, and it would then transform into what’s known as a public benefit company.

Essentially, that means it would be run by the government. Under that setup, money from limited oxycontin sales, as well as from sales of several overdose-reversing medications, would be pumped back into treatment initiatives and other drug programs aimed at combating the opioid crisis.

For its part, the Justice Department has endorsed this model. 

Should Purdue Be Punished More?

There has been strong opposition to this deal, mainly from state attorneys general and Democratic members of Congress who say it doesn’t go far enough.

Those critics argue that the settlements don’t hold Purdue or the Sackler family fully accountable, especially the Sacklers since — unlike Purdue — they didn’t have to admit any wrongdoing.

“[W]hile our country continues to recover from the pain and destruction left by the Sacklers’ greed,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said, “this family has attempted to evade responsibility and lowball the millions of victims of the opioid crisis. Today’s deal doesn’t account for the hundreds of thousands of deaths or millions of addictions caused by Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family.”

“If the only practical consequence of your Department’s investigation is that a handful of billionaires are made slightly less rich, we fear that the American people will lose faith in the ability of the Department to provide accountability and equal justice under the law,” A coalition of 38 Democratic members of Congress said in a statement to Attorney General Bill Barr last week.

While this settlement doesn’t include any convictions against the Sacklers specifically, as the Justice Department noted, it also doesn’t release them from criminal liability and a separate criminal investigation is ongoing. 

Still, last week, 25 state attorneys general asked Barr not to make a deal that includes converting Purdue into a public benefit company, urging the Justice Department to “avoid having special ties to an opioid company, conflicts of interest, or mixed motives in an industry that caused a national crisis.” 

Part of their concern is that the government would essentially run this new company while also holding the original one accountable. Those attorneys general instead argued that Purdue should be run privately but with government oversight. 

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (The New York Times) (Fox Business)

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Parents of 545 Children Separated at U.S. Border Still Can’t Be Found

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  • A Tuesday filing update from the ACLU and Department of Justice revealed that a Steering Committee in charge of reuniting families that were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border has not been able to find parents of 545 separated children. 
  • Efforts to reach these parents via telephone have been unsuccessful and those involved are not hopeful that will change. Two-thirds of these parents are believed to be in their respective countries of origin.
  • So far, parents for 485 kids have been reached.
  • Finding these parents is an already complicated process made even more strenuous by the coronavirus pandemic. On-the-ground searches were suspended because of COVID-19 but have now picked up in limited capacity.

Parents of 545 Children Remain Unfound

A Tuesday court filing from the U.S. Department of Justice and American Civil Liberties Union revealed that the parents of 545 children who had been separated at the U.S.-Mexico border have not been found or contacted.

Two thirds of those parents are expected to be in their respective country of origin. While there have been efforts to reach these families via phone, they have not been successful. Other efforts to reach these parents are in the works. 

Thousands of families were separated in 2018 under President Donald Trump’s zero tolerance policy, but a federal judge ordered that those families should be reunited. Soon after, many were, but in reality many more families had actually been separated. It was later revealed that the Trump Administration had been separating families back in 2017 under a pilot program. A court order reuniting those families was not issued until last year. 

A Steering Committee, of which the ACLU and other organizations are members, is now searching for these parents. According to the filing, the government provided a list of 1,556 children. The current focus on reaching children whose membership in this case is not contested and who have available contact information for a sponsor or parent. The Steering Committee has attempted to reach the families of all 1,030 children who fit that bill, and have successfully reached the parents, or their attorneys, for 485 kids. 

“There is so much more work to be done to find these families, Lee Gelernt, the deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, told NBC News, which broke the story.

“People ask when we will find all of these families, and sadly, I can’t give an answer. I just don’t know,” he continued. “But we will not stop looking until we have found every one of the families, no matter how long it takes. The tragic reality is that hundreds of parents were deported to Central America without their children, who remain here with foster families or distant relatives.”

Efforts to Find Parents

Because so much time has passed between family separation practices and today, initiatives to find those parents are difficult. They are also further complicated by the fact that during the pilot program, U.S. officials did not collect thorough information from these parents, and many were deported before courts ordered they be reunited with their kids. 

Nan Schivone, the legal director for Justice in Motion, which carries out on-the-ground searches for parents, told The Washington Post that attorneys “take the minimal, often inaccurate or out-of-date information provided by the government and do in-person investigations to find these parents.” 

Schivone said it is an “an arduous and time-consuming process on a good day.” Sometimes, these lawyers might find themselves in remote villages where outsiders are suspect and language barriers can slow down communication.

The pandemic halted these efforts as lockdowns and curfews made it impossible for Justice in Motion to look for parents abroad. Though, Tuesday’s filing revealed that “limited physical on-the-ground searches for separated parents has now resumed where possible to do so.” 

See what others are saying: (NPR) (NBC News) (Washington Post)

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Scott Peterson’s Murder Convictions To Be Re-examined

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  • Scott Peterson was convicted in 2004 of murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn child.
  • He was sentenced to death for the crimes, but the California Supreme Court overturned the death sentence in August of this year after finding that the trial court improperly dismissed potential jurors. The court did, however, uphold the convictions.
  • Now, the CA Supreme Court has ordered the San Mateo County Superior Court to review the convictions and determine whether Peterson should be given a new trial on the grounds that one juror “committed prejudicial misconduct by not disclosing her prior involvement with other legal proceedings.”
  • That juror had not disclosed the fact that she was granted a restraining order in 2000 against her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend for harassing her when she was pregnant.

Peterson’s Death Sentence Was Previously Overturned

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered a review of Scott Peterson’s 2004 convictions for murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn son.

Peterson was sentenced to death by lethal injection for those crimes in 2005, but in August of this year, the California Supreme Court overturned his death sentence. 

We reject Peterson’s claim that he received an unfair trial as to guilt and thus affirm his convictions for murder,“ the court said at the time. “But before the trial began, the trial court made a series of clear and significant errors in jury selection.”

As far as what errors the court is talking about, it said the trial judge wrongly discharged prospective jurors who expressed opposition to capital punishment but said they would be willing to impose it.

Court to Decide on Potential New Trial

Now, weeks later, the California Supreme Court has ordered that the case return to the San Mateo County Superior Court to determine whether Peterson should be given a new trial on the ground that a juror “committed prejudicial misconduct by not disclosing her prior involvement with other legal proceedings, including but not limited to being the victim of a crime.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, that juror had not shared the fact that she was granted a restraining order in 2000 against her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend for harassing her when she was pregnant. 

Peterson’s lawyers even say that when all potential jurors were asked whether they had ever been a victim of a crime or involved in a lawsuit, the juror said no to both questions.

They also say she was one of the two holdouts for convicting Peterson of first-degree murder for killing his unborn child, with the jury ultimately convicting Peterson of the first-degree murder of Laci and the second-degree murder of the unborn child. 

For now, it’s up to the San Mateo Court to decide what happens next, but the California Supreme Court did say that prosecutors could again seek the death penalty for Peterson at a new hearing.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Los Angeles Times) (NBC News)

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