- The Chicago Tribune reported Monday that the Department of Homeland Security is planning to deploy roughly 150 federal agents in Chicago, Illinois this week, though the specifics of their duties is still unknown.
- The move comes after federal agents were deployed in Portland, Oregon, where they continually clashed with demonstrators protesting against racial inequality and police brutality.
- There have also been reports of unmarked police detaining people in similarly unmarked vehicles. Because of that, Oregon’s attorney general has filed a lawsuit against the action.
DHS Presence in Chicago
The Department of Homeland Security is planning to send around 150 federal agents into Chicago this week, according to The Chicago Tribune.
If true, the move would follow federal agents’ presence in Portland, Oregon, a city that has been the subject of nonstop massive protests for nearly two months. Those agents were first deployed following a June 26 executive order from President Donald Trump that seeks to protect federal monuments, statues, and memorials.
In Chicago, the scope of DHS is currently unknown. According to an anonymous Immigration and Customs Enforcement official, that deployment will include ICE agents; however, that official said those agents would not be involved in immigration or deportation matters as part of the deployment.
Like Portland, Chicago has also been a grounds for massive protests since late May when George Floyd died in police custody. It’s also possible that federal agents won’t stop with just Portland or Chicago.
In a leaked memo dated from July 16, DHS said, “Moving forward, if this type of response is going to be the norm, specialized training and standardized equipment should be deployed to responding agencies.”
Oregon AG Files Lawsuit Alleging Civil Rights Violations
On Friday, the Oregon Department of Justice announced in a letter that state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum would soon be filing a lawsuit in response to accusations that people were being taken off the streets and put into vans by unmarked police officers.
The Oregon DOJ alleges that “federal authorities overstepp[ed] their powers and injur[ed] or threaten[ed] peaceful protesters on the streets of Downtown Portland.”
Later that same day, Rosenblum confirmed that she had filed that lawsuit. Notably, it was filed against a number of agencies, including DHS, Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the Federal Protection Service. The lawsuit also lists 10 unidentified individuals as defendants.
“On information and belief, John Does 1-10 are employed by the United States government in a law enforcement capacity,” the lawsuit states. “They have made it impossible for them to be individually identified by carrying out law enforcement actions without wearing any identifying information, even so much as the agency that employs them.”
Overall, Rosenblum accuses these agencies of engaging in unlawful law enforcement tactics that threaten the civil rights of people in Oregon.
“Federal law enforcement officers including John Does 1-10 have been using unmarked vehicles to drive around downtown Portland, detain protesters, and place them into the officers’ unmarked vehicles, removing them from public without either arresting them or stating the basis for an arrest, since at least Tuesday, July 14,” the lawsuit alleges.
Specifically, the lawsuit references Mark Pettibone, a man who spoke to The Washington Post after claiming to have been confronted by men dressed in camouflage who then pushed him into an unmarked van on July 15. Pettibone was reportedly taken to the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse where he was read his Miranda rights.
Despite this, Pettibone has maintained that he was never told why he was arrested and that after he refused to speak to police without the presence of a lawyer, he was released without any paperwork, citation, or record of his arrest.
According to The Post, U.S. Customs and Border Protection later took responsibility for Pettibone’s detainment.
The lawsuit goes on to allege that other citizens beside Pettibone have also been detained “without warning or explanation, without a warrant, and without providing any way to determine who is directing this action.”
The lawsuit argues that these agencies are injuring citizens by taking away their ability to determine whether or not they’re being kidnapped or arrested. For example, if a person is kidnapped, they are legally allowed to engage in self-defense; however, if that person is arrested by police, they could be charged with resisting arrest for the same action.
That’s why Rosenblum is asking for federal agents to be required to identify themselves and their agency before making an arrest. She is also asking for those agents to be required to give an explanation as to why they’re detaining someone for an arrest.
In addition to this lawsuit, the Oregon DOJ is also seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent federal authorities from unlawfully detaining people in the state.
Also on Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon filed a separate lawsuit against DHS and the U.S. Marshals Service in an attempt to block federal law enforcement from dispersing, arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force against journalists and legal observers.
“This is a fight to save our democracy,” Kelly Simon, the interim legal director of Oregon’s ACLU, said. “Under the direction of the Trump administration, federal agents are terrorizing the community, risking lives, and brutally attacking protesters demonstrating against police brutality. These federal agents must be stopped and removed from our city.”
The Legality of Federal Occupation
DHS was formed after the September 11, 2001, attacks, and since then, its job has mainly been to handle national security threats from abroad, as well as border security. Since Trump took office, it has largely carried out his immigration policies.
However, with Portland, its presence has been more focused on law-and-order.
For example, some of the agents deployed in Portland are part of a group known as BORTAC, Border Patrol’s equivalent of a SWAT team. Notably, it’s a highly trained group that is normally tasked with investigating drug smuggling organizations, as opposed to protesters in cities. As a result, city and state officials have raised questions about whether it’s overstepping local law enforcement.
“I don’t have authority to order federal officers to do things,” Portland’s Deputy Police Chief Chris Davis said. “It does complicate things for us.”
For his part, Trump has argued that he sent in federal agents because Portland police have failed to adequately respond to the protests. Despite that, the leaked internal DHS memo from Thursday states that those federal officers haven’t been trained in riot control or mass demonstrations.
A DHS spokesperson said on Sunday that the missions of these federal agents were “aligned with their appropriate training,” and that officers received “additional training for their deployment in the city” to assist the Federal Protective Service.
Still, that hasn’t convinced Democrats. In fact, Sunday, several House Democrats penned a letter to the inspectors general of the DOJ and DHS. In it, they called for an investigation “into the use of federal law enforcement agencies by the attorney general and the acting secretary of homeland security to suppress first amendment protected activities in Washington DC, Portland and other communities across the United States.”
Since then, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has denounced the Trump administration’s use of federal agents in Portland, saying, “We cannot give up liberty for security.”
See what others are saying: (The Chicago Tribune) (The Washington Post) (AP News)
New COVID-19 Variant Could Become Dominant in the U.S. by March, CDC Warns
- The CDC warned Friday that a new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
- The strain was first reported in the United Kingdom in December and is now in at least 10 states.
- The CDC used a modeled trajectory to discover how quickly the variant could spread in the U.S. and said that this could threaten the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.
CDC Issues Warning
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the new COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
While it is not known to be more deadly, it does spread at a higher rate, which is troubling considering the condition the U.S. is already in. Cases and deaths are already on the rise in nearly every state and globally, 2 million lives have been lost to the coronavirus.
The variant was first reported in the United Kingdom in mid-December. It is now in 30 countries, including the U.S., where cases have been located in at least ten states. Right now, only 76 cases of this variant have been confirmed in the U.S., but experts believe that number is likely much higher and said it will increase significantly in the coming weeks. It is already a dominant strain in parts of the U.K.
Modeled trajectory shows that growth in the U.S. could be so fast that it dominates U.S. cases just three months into the new year. This could pose a huge threat to our already strained healthcare system.
Mitigating Spread of Variant
“I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC told the New York Times. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”
The CDC advises that health officials use this time to limit spread and increase vaccination as much as possible in order to mitigate the impact this variant will have. Experts believe that current vaccines will protect against this strain.
“Effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential,” the CDC said in their report.
“Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread.”
See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times) (NBC News)
Former Michigan Gov. and 8 Others Charged Over Flint Water Crisis
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. (Al Goldis/AP)
- Ex-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty Wednesday for his role in the Flint water crisis
- By Thursday, eight more former state and city officials were charged with crimes ranging from involuntary manslaughter to extortion.
- Flint residents have long awaited this news. In 2019, prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against 15 officials and said they would start the investigation from scratch, citing concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.
Rick Snyder Charges
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office said Thursday that it had filed 41 charges against nine former state and city officials for their role in the Flint water crisis.
The most high-profile figure to be charged was former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. On Wednesday, he was hit with two counts of willful neglect of duty.
He was the state’s top executive when local officials decided to switch the city’s drinking water source to the Flint River in 2014.
The switch was supposed to be a temporary cost-saving measure while a pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. However, the water wasn’t treated properly for corrosion, so lead-contaminated water was released into the homes of people all over the city. Because of that, 12 people died and at least 90 were sickened with Legionnaires’ disease.
Snyder appeared in court this morning via Zoom, pleading not guilty to the two misdemeanor charges. If convicted he could face up to a year in prison and as much as a $1,000 fine.
His charges alone are significant because they make him the first governor or former governor in the state to ever be charged with a crime for alleged conduct while in office.
8 Others Charged
Along with Snyder, eight others were charged, including a former state health director Nick Lyon. Lyon received nine charges of involuntary manslaughter, among others.
Richard Baird, one of Snyder’s closes advisors was changed for extortion, perjury, and obstructions of justice. Others who were charged include:
- Jarrod Agen, Snyder’s former chief of staff and Vice President Mike Pence’s former communications director.
- Dr. Eden Wells, a former chief medical executive for the state Department of Health and Human Services.
- Darnell Earley, former Flint finance director and state-appointed emergency manager.
- Gerald Ambrose, former state-appointed emergency manager.
- Howard Croft, former Flint Public Works Director.
- Nancy Peeler, the state’s director of maternal, infant and early childhood home visiting for the health department.
Flint residents have waited a long time for justice over the water contamination issue. Prosecutors previously dropped all 15 criminal charges tied to the Flint case in 2019 and said the investigation would begin again from scratch.
At the time, they cited concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.
It also wasn’t until last year that the state reached a $600 million settlement with victims, establishing a fund from which residents can file for compensation.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Detroit News) (Detroit Free Press)
Three Lawmakers Test Positive for COVID-19 Following Capitol Attack
- At least three Congressmembers have tested positive for COVID-19 following Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol.
- Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) believe they contracted the virus after locking down in close quarters with numerous Republican lawmakers who refused to wear masks.
- Jayapal and Schneider are calling for those who did not wear a mask to face consequences.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman Tests Positive
At least three members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19 after locking down in close quarters with other House members during Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol.
Congress’ attending physician, Brian Monahan, warned that members may have been exposed during the lockdown. He recommended that everyone who was isolated inside should get tested for the virus.
On Monday Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) became the first to announce that she tested positive. Watson Coleman believes she was exposed while in the Capitol lockdown. In her statement, she cited the multiple Republicans who refused to wear masks while inside. Video footage from Punchbowl News shows a Democratic lawmaker handing out masks and a handful of Republicans declining to take one.
Watson Coleman is a 75-year-old lung cancer survivor. While she said she is only experiencing cold-like symptoms, she tweeted that per a doctor’s suggestion, she headed to a local hospital for antibody treatment. She also encouraged those who sheltered in place to get tested.
More Cases Follow
Later on Monday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said she too had tested positive, also blaming a lack of mask-wearing in the Capitol. In a lengthy Twitter thread, she said Republicans created a superspreader event and demanded consequences for their actions.
“Many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic—creating a superspreader event ON TOP of a domestic terrorist attack,” she wrote.
“Any Member who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable,” Jayapal added.
“I’m calling for every single Member who refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol to be fined and removed from the floor by the Sergeant at Arms.”
Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) echoed her frustrations on Tuesday after releasing a statement saying he has become the third House member to have tested positive following the lockdown.
“Today, I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff,” he wrote.
Like Jayapal, he is calling for sanctions against those who opted to not wear masks.
Many health officials feared that this lockdown could lead to a surge in cases. They also worry that the mob itself could lead to a superspreader event as most of those who attacked the Capitol were not wearing masks and were crowding together both inside and outside of the building.