Law & the Courts

Rioters Set Fire to Federal Courthouse in Portland

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler joins a crowd of demonstrators, July 22, 2020. (Caitlin Ochs/Reuters)

Rioters in Portland set fire to a federal courthouse Wednesday night as nightly violence continues to rock the city and local officials call for federal law enforcement agents deployed by the Trump administration to leave.

More than 1,000 protesters congregated near the Justice Center and Federal Courthouse downtown and threw incendiary devices over the fence around the federal courthouse, which resulted in a large fire. Protests and rioting in Portland have been nearly constant since the May 25 death of George Floyd that sparked national outrage and demonstrations across the country.

Some protests have been peaceful, but demonstrators who remain on the streets after dark have engaged in property destruction, throwing rocks at police, marking buildings with graffiti, and earlier this month briefly set another courthouse on fire.


Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler addressed the crowd and at around 9:15 p.m. and left over an hour later, but not before he was tear-gassed by federal officers with the protesters. Protesters shouted obscenities and threw objects at Wheeler as he joined the demonstration.

Police said that demonstrators remained in the area near the courthouse until after midnight even after police declared a riot “due to the violent conduct of the large group creating a grave risk of public alarm” and ordered them to leave. Some protesters breached the fence, and some threw molotov cocktails and other projectiles at the courthouse, according to police.

More fires were started around the courthouse and protesters committed multiple acts of vandalism. Portland police made no arrests, although federal officers arrested six people. Federal officers have emerged from the courthouse at least four times in recent days, including on Wednesday, to confront the crowd.

Late the previous night on Tuesday, protesters blocked streets and attempted to break in to the federal courthouse and Portland Police Bureau’s Central Precinct, according to police.

Last week, Wheeler accused President Trump of abusing the use of federal law enforcement officers, whose presence he said has “ratcheted up the tension” rather than quelled the nightly violence taking place across the city.

Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell on Friday appeared to suggest that city police officers are not coordinating with federal law enforcement, saying, “the federal officers have their objectives, and the Portland police has our objectives. We don’t direct federal officers’ actions, and they do not direct ours.”

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