Swept up in the federal response to Portland protests: ‘I didn’t know if I was going to be seen again’

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/investigations/portland-protesters-federal-response-trump/?itid=hp_dontmiss

The protest outside Portland’s federal courthouse had died down by 3:40 a.m. on July 29, when a green laser shined down from a seventh-floor balcony used as a lookout by federal agents.

The laser landed on John Hacker, an activist and citizen-journalist standing in a park about 170 feet away. It skittered across Hacker’s feet, head and torso for more than 45 seconds. Suddenly, an unmarked van pulled in front of him. Doors slid open. Heavily armed men in camouflage tactical gear surrounded Hacker and took him into custody.

Hacker, 36, is among nearly two dozen people arrested but not charged during the Trump administration’s five-week response, from July through early August, to the demonstrations against police brutality in Portland. Before letting Hacker go, federal agents collected a DNA swab, photographed him and confiscated a phone that has not been returned, he said.

Note that the unknown agents took DNA, photographs, and the persons phone of a person not charge, nor convicted of any crime.   He was kidnaped by who know who, illegally searched, possessions seized, and all his civil rights violated when he was not doing anything illegal.    This is the tRump US and it is really scary.  

From detention to release, the four people whose cases were examined by The Post described experiences they found harrowing and unnerving. Three are speaking for the first time.

One was picked up and interrogated in an unmarked van, she said, and then dropped off in another location in the city. Two others, including Hacker, said they were held in jail cells before being let go without explanation or charges. Another, a U.S. citizen like the other three, was mistakenly identified as a foreigner and arrested on charges that were later dropped.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Oregon said 23 of 98 arrests by federal agents during the operation did not result in charges.

The office would not name the 23 people, making it impossible to judge how complete the tally is. Kevin Sonoff, a spokesman, said the office considered someone arrested if they “were detained for any amount of time” and “weren’t free to go for whatever reason.” Under that definition, all the cases examined by The Post would qualify as arrests.

In Hacker’s case, the DHS spokesman acknowledged that Customs and Border Protection agents detained Hacker because they believed he matched the description of someone suspected of aiding a protester who threw a firecracker at a federal officer. “Upon further investigation and coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s office, a decision was made not to pursue charges against Mr. Hacker,” the spokesman said.

Hacker, whose live-stream videos earlier in the night show him documenting the protests but not participating, denied the allegation and called the explanation “laughable.”

Evelyn Bassi, 30, a lifelong Portland resident, began attending nightly protests in early June. A bartender and chef who hasn’t been able to work during the pandemic, Bassi said she came to the courthouse in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

On July 15, around 1:55 a.m., she and a friend, Ryan Ottomano, were standing at an empty intersection behind the courthouse, video shows. They were watching protesters chalk messages on the pavement, she said, and were preparing to go home.

A dark gray Dodge Grand Caravan with tinted windows pulled up next to them, according to security camera footage of the intersection obtained by The Post from Multnomah County, which owns a nearby building.

“That’s when I was like, ‘Oh, no. They’re here for us,’ ” said Ottomano, 29.

The van’s front and side doors on the passenger side opened as it rolled to a stop, Bassi said.

“I noticed that there were people in camo,” she said. “I threw my hands up and said, ‘We’re leaving, we’re leaving,’ like, ‘We’re not causing any trouble.’ ”

Fearful and unsure who the men were, Bassi and Ottomano said, they ran. The van followed them for half a block before making a U-turn to pursue Bassi, who had turned to run back toward the courthouse, video shows.

After the van caught up, two officers in camouflage tactical gear with “POLICE” patches across their chests approached Bassi. She turned to face them with her hands up. “I haven’t done anything at all,” she repeated, according to video by a witness.

The agents held Bassi’s arms behind her back and escorted her to the van. She was ordered to sit cross-legged on the floor of the vehicle — its middle seats removed — with her hands on her helmet and her eyes down, she said. They began to drive through downtown.

A pair of agents in the front and two more in the back were quiet, Bassi recalled.

“They never said who they were,” Bassi said. “I didn’t know if I was going to be seen again. I didn’t know what was going on. But I could tell that I was being arrested or detained or something.”

An officer asked whether Bassi, whose helmet covered her hair, was blond, she recalled.

The van made frequent turns for five to 10 minutes, until the agents stopped at a quiet intersection seven blocks from where Bassi had been picked up, she said.

Following officers’ orders, she climbed out and put her hands on the van’s roof, she said. An agent frisked her and asked her whether she had a laser pointer, she said. She told him she did not.

“You’re being detained because you match the description of somebody who committed a federal crime against an officer,” the agent said, according to Bassi, who is transgender.

As they removed her helmet and a cap underneath it, her brunette hair fell down.

“That’s not him,” an officer said, according to Bassi.

Another held up a grainy cellphone photo of the man they sought, Bassi recalled. It showed a person wearing a face covering and a gray bicycle helmet that bore little resemblance to her black helmet, she said.

An agent told Bassi she was free to go but left her with a warning, she said: “You know, bro, we have cameras everywhere.”

That night, Pettibone had listened to Black Lives Matter speakers in the park across from the courthouse and tossed a Frisbee with friends, he said. But as Pettibone and his friend left, walking two blocks northwest of the courthouse on SW Main Street, a group of protesters warned that they had seen “unmarked vans kind of patrolling the perimeter,” Pettibone said.

At 2:33 a.m., security camera footage obtained by The Post shows Pettibone, wearing a beanie, glasses and a backpack, walking on SW Main Street toward SW 5th Avenue with his friend, Conner O’Shea.

Soon after, a van pulled up, and “four or five military-fatigues-clad people jumped out,” Pettibone said.

Pettibone ran.

“This is an unmarked van,” he said. “No one knows who these people are. … And I feared for my life.”

Security camera footage shows Pettibone running around the corner at SW Main and SW Broadway around 2:35 a.m., with the van following seconds later. He said he was detained shortly after. He knelt on the sidewalk, his hands above his head, and repeatedly asked the officers, “Why?” he said. There was no answer, he said.

Like Bassi, Pettibone said he was told to sit on the van floor as he held his hands on his head. An agent pulled his beanie cap down over his eyes, he said. Video from Multnomah County shows a van similar to the one that pursued Pettibone arriving near the courthouse at 2:37 a.m., about four blocks from where Pettibone was detained.

In the courthouse garage, Pettibone said, officers stood him against a wall and took photos from different angles. They escorted him to a holding area on an upper floor, he said, where an officer dumped out the contents of his bag without his consent.

“This is a whole lot of nothing,” Pettibone recalled the officer saying, as hand sanitizer and an inhaler spilled out.

Pettibone said officers put him in a cell and asked whether he would waive his right to remain silent; he said no. He was given no explanation for his detention, he said. He remained there for two hours, he said, until an officer told him he could leave.

In Washington, Trump praised the federal response.

“Portland was very rough, and they called us in, and we did a good job, to put it mildly,” he said on July 15 at the White House, the day that Bassi and Pettibone had been taken into custody in the early morning. “Many people in jail right now.”

Officials in Oregon did not see it that way. The state’s attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, sued the Department of Homeland Security on July 17. “We are today asking the federal court to stop the federal police from secretly stopping and forcibly grabbing Oregonians off our streets,” Rosenblum said at the time.

The suit accused federal officers of violating protesters’ rights and Oregon’s sovereignty. It also sought an order restraining federal agents from making arrests without warrants and requiring them to identify themselves and the reason for any detention. A federal judge denied the request, ruling that the state didn’t have a strong enough interest to sue on behalf of protesters.

Federal agents were waiting for Tawasi as he drove home early on the morning of July 24 after a night of attending the protests at the courthouse. Tawasi, a Portland resident whose name is Native American, does not have a surname.

As Tawasi’s car approached the building where he lives at 2:33 a.m., an SUV carrying federal agents idled at a nearby loading dock, according to a phone recording of security video from a business that owns the property. The SUV pulled in front of Tawasi’s car, as other vehicles pulled in behind, lights flashing, video shows. Agents in plainclothes with guns drawn converged on Tawasi’s car and removed him, he said.

“We got you, Mr. Hickey,” an agent who identified himself as part of Homeland Security Investigations said, according to Tawasi.

“You definitely got me. But I am not Mr. Hickey. I have no idea who that is,” Tawasi, 44, said he responded.

Tawasi, a delivery driver who also works as a far-left video blogger, was at a loss. He had been attending protests two to three times a week, but he told The Post he is a pacifist.

During Tawasi’s arrest, agents informed him he was facing charges under a statute that prohibits releasing federal agents’ personal information, such as a Social Security number or home address, in order to threaten, intimidate or incite violence against them, he said.

Tawasi later learned the charge stemmed from his social media posts. He had published a photo on Twitter on July 12 of what he believed were two federal agents outside a Portland hotel. In subsequent posts, Tawasi called on protesters to make noise outside the hotel so that the “federal goons,” as he called the agents, could not sleep, and he urged hotel workers to deny the agents service.

“I wasn’t encouraging people to throw grenades or shoot tear gas or bullets or hit with batons,” Tawasi said in an interview. “I was encouraging people to, like, use air horns or sirens or just noise-making devices to, you know, just to disrupt the normal course of business.”

The protest Tawasi called for never materialized, but his posts prompted federal agents to monitor his social media accounts and eventually to surveil him at the protest on the night of his arrest, court records show.

For unexplained reasons, investigators initially believed Tawasi was a Canadian national with a name of Hickey, court records show. A then-sealed warrant secured on the day of his arrest identified him as Tawasi, “a/k/a Ronald Bernard Hickey,” according to court records.

After his arrest, Tawasi was held in the courthouse jail for more than 12 hours, until his first court appearance the following afternoon. During that hearing, the judge said prosecutors intended to charge Tawasi with illegally entering the United States, in addition to the charge based on his tweets, according to a transcript.

“Mr. Tawasi is alleged to be a citizen of Canada. He is also alleged to be here without permission, and he is also alleged to have a different name other than Tawasi; specifically, by the last name of Hickey,” said Magistrate Judge John V. Acosta.

A news release issued by the Department of Justice two days later also referred to Tawasi as a Canadian national with the alias.

The federal government soon began to backpedal. The illegal-reentry charge did not materialize, court records show. The Justice Department’s news release was corrected to say that Tawasi had been “incorrectly identified” as Hickey. And less than two weeks later, the charges of releasing agents’ personal information were dropped at federal prosecutors’ request “in the interest of justice,” court filings state.

Federal agents never returned Tawasi’s phone, though, he said.

He provided The Post with screen shots of Google tracking data that he had enabled on his Samsung Galaxy S6 showing the phone’s movements during the 32 hours after his arrest. Tawasi accessed the data by logging on to his Google account from a computer. It showed the phone was transported to several buildings in downtown Portland, including the federal courthouse and an Internal Revenue Service office before it was taken to a residential neighborhood in Lake Oswego, 10 miles south of Portland, the data shows.

Then the tracking data stopped, indicating the phone was no longer on or its tracking function was disabled.

Court records in Tawasi’s criminal case do not show a search warrant.

Hacker’s arrest on July 29 capped a month of unrest outside the courthouse.

Hacker, who completed a master’s degree in criminology and criminal justice from Portland State University this past spring, attended the protests most nights.

A self-described citizen-journalist, he records videos of protests and rallies to expose what he views as excessive police force and information “that contradicts police statements,” he said. He considers himself an anti-fascist but said he is not part of any group affiliated with antifa, the loosely knit far-left movement.

While recording a far-right rally in Portland in 2017, he was charged by a DHS officer with not obeying a lawful order to leave. Videos played at trial contradicted parts of an officer’s testimony, according to media reports. A federal judge later acquitted Hacker, court records show.

In the hours before his arrest on July 29, Hacker streamed 77 minutes of video showing the protests and police response. He calmly narrated the night’s events, describing the actions of protesters and federal agents, according to a review of the footage.

Hacker was standing beside Jake Johnson, another citizen-journalist, in Lownsdale Square. The park was mostly quiet and empty, when both noticed the green laser coming from the balcony, they said. Hacker initially thought it was a prank intimidation tactic, he said. But Johnson quickly grew alarmed, video shows.

“Is this a joke?” Johnson shouted on a video as the laser targeted Hacker at 3:41 a.m. “This is, uh … not great.”

Two unmarked vans arrived seconds later, videos show.

“You have the wrong target,” Johnson yelled. “You have the wrong target.”

A Border Patrol agent in fatigues stepped out of a white, unmarked van and took Hacker into custody, video shows.

Hacker said he asked why he was being arrested, but the agent was silent.

In a video from a bystander, the agent can be seen taking Hacker’s phone and putting it atop the white van, as agents prepare to transport Hacker to the courthouse.

Inside the building, Hacker said, officers took cellphone photos of him. An agent placed a sticker on his right back shoulder, before taking a photo from behind, Hacker said. Hacker said he could not see the sticker.

Hacker was placed in a cell. He said agents asked to take his fingerprints, but he told them his fingers had been partially amputated, an injury suffered during a traffic accident years ago. Agents then asked to take a DNA swab from his cheek, and he allowed that, he said.

Hacker asked two more times why he was under arrest, he said.

“We’re working on it,” he said he was told.

More than an hour passed before an agent opened the cell and escorted Hacker toward a building exit. “We’ve done an investigation, determined you’ve committed no crime,” he said the agent told him.

Security camera footage shows Hacker emerging from the courthouse at 5:09 a.m.

Only after he was on the street, he said, did he realize his Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus cellphone — on which he had no tracking apps enabled — was missing.

He said his cellphone still has not been returned.

“It definitely has impacted my ability to document in a way that really shows what’s going on because there’s that constant fear around keeping, you know, extra distance from what’s going on.”

All four people said their experiences linger with them, causing anxiety, paranoia and fear.

“I can’t be alone,” Bassi said.

Pettibone, who sued Trump and DHS officials late last month, has stopped going to the protests as frequently. “It makes you more paranoid,” he said.

“Now, when I’m driving somewhere, I don’t just take it for granted that I’m going to be able to get home,” Tawasi said.

Hacker continues to document protests but has become more skittish. “There’s that constant fear around keeping, you know, extra distance from what’s going on,” he said.

There is a lot more, including videos and pictures.   I strongly recommending going to the link above.   Reading this made my blood run cold.   These were all illegal acts committed by the US government praised by a lawless president.   Think of what will happen if he is reelected.   These people were seized, searched, had their property stolen, yes stolen, and DNA taken from them but no charges filed.   What happened to those records, what about contracts on the phones.  More than that think of how this affects them personally and their ability to continue their civil right under the constitution to protest.   Horrible criminal actions by the US government that we expect from China or Russia, any other lawless government where people have no rights.    This is a must read please.    Hugs

4 thoughts on “Swept up in the federal response to Portland protests: ‘I didn’t know if I was going to be seen again’

  1. Argus September 13, 2020 / 02:31

    I didn’t read the whole post, Scottie. But I get the meaning, and the message … there’s anguish there, and indignation. (Ooops, being paged …)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Scottie September 13, 2020 / 04:24

      Hello Argus. Basically those people were kidnaped and illegally searched and had their rights violated by a government out of control. Their property was stolen, and they have not gotten it back. Who do they demand give it back to them, they don’t know who took it. There is no rule of law when the authorities can do this, when the “police” are not accountable to respect the laws. Who do you sue, who is responsible for these thugs who did these illegal acts? It crosses a line in the US I thought we wouldn’t ever cross. Hugs

      Liked by 2 people

      • Argus September 13, 2020 / 16:24

        This is where the (please forgive) endless spouting of US bullshit smacks headlong against Reality.
        And if you do manage to ‘vote the bastards out’ … any change will be viciously opposed (gunpoint? Naaaa … not in America, for Chrissake)(yeah …) by the incumbents.

        You (as one nation united under God) could be in for a bit of a rough ride.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Scottie September 14, 2020 / 04:36

          Hello Argus. I agree, a lot of us are worried about that also. There is a never ending question of what will happen if he loses. I just posted about Roger Stone trying to organize 50,000 polling place thugs to intimidate and interfere with the voting rights of POC. The fascist thugs are winning right now as they have the power of the government behind them. Hugs

          Like

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