Wyden again demands answers for feds’ use of tear gas in Portland

Protests

Senator sends a new letter of inquiry to the Department of Homeland Security following use of tear gas at ICE facility

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden speaks in the KOIN 6 News studio. January 5, 2020 (KOIN)

The Portland Tribune and Pamplin Media Group’s papers are a KOIN 6 News media partner

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden is pressing the feds for answers as billows of tear gas still blow through parts of Portland — despite the change in administration at the White House. After never receiving a response to his August inquiry from then-Department of Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf, Oregon’s senior senator sent a new list of questions to President Joe Biden’s DHS secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, expressing “serious concerns.”

“The extensive use of these chemicals during an unprecedented respiratory pandemic is particularly concerning,” according to the two-page letter dated Feb. 2. “Medical experts have attributed various health concerns to the acute exposure of tear gas and other chemical agents, and health experts continue their research to understand the long-term impacts of exposure.”

Read the full letter here.

Wyden’s questions seek specifics regarding the number of federal officers currently stationed in Portland, the equipment deployed and the department’s procedures justifying its use. He also seeks confirmation that hexachloroethane or “HC” smoke has been used and describes photo evidence suggesting the use of expired tear gas canisters.

Finally, Wyden asked whether DHS or other agencies have studied the potential health effects of exposure to tear gas. He asked Mayorkas to respond within two weeks.

“Environmental groups have also expressed their serious concern about the spread of such chemicals throughout the city and its impact on the health of the community and surrounding wildlife,” the longtime Democrat wrote.

While Mayor Ted Wheeler banned local cops from using tear gas to disperse protesters in September, the order had no effect on federal agents based out of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Southwest Portland or those guarding the downtown federal courthouse next to the county jail.

State Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Clackamas, has introduced legislation which, if passed, would effectively bar police from using tear gas or less-lethal weapons on large crowds of demonstrators statewide. There would be exceptions for forewarned use of pepper spray during riots, as well as when impact weapons are used “against a specific person” posing a serious threat of violence.

The bill also seeks to ban “proxy law enforcement agencies” from violating the restrictions and instructs local police to inform the feds of the new rules and “attempt to enforce the requirements.” Persons injured in violation of the proposed law would be permitted to sue for damages.

The whizz of crowd control munitions could be heard as recently as Friday evening, Feb. 5, outside the ICE facility, but press reports indicate no tear gas was used that night. Amanda McAdoo, executive director of the Cottonwood School of Civics and Science located across the street from ICE, says the months-long volley of chemical agents has now leached into the soil of their playground.

“We need them to stop using chemical weapons in front of our school,” McAdoo told KOIN 6 News.

In July, OPB interviewed 26 protesters who reported abnormal experiences with their menstrual cycles after prolonged tear gas exposure.

At a press conference held by Indigenous Land Protectors outside City Hall on Feb. 5, one woman said her pregnancy ended after being exposed to tear gas, according to a video from the scene.

“It was already too late. I was losing my baby,” the speaker said. “This is the present, and I need you to help break this vicious cycle so this is not our future.”

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