The protester, armed only with a speaker, stood across the street from a line of officers clad in body armor in downtown Portland, Ore., on Saturday night. When they threw a canister his way, video shows, the protester calmly rolled it away. Seconds later, shots rang out, and he crumbled to the ground with blood gushing from his head.
The man, 26-year-old Donavan La Bella, suffered a fractured skull and required facial reconstruction surgery after he was apparently hit in the head by a less-than-lethal munition, his mother told the Oregonian. The man is in serious condition at Portland’s Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, a hospital spokeswoman said Monday.
The round was reportedly fired by federal agents, who have been dispatched to Portland as part of President Trump’s crackdown on destructive protests, a fact that has become a flashpoint for local officials already bristling over the feds being sent without their consent. On Sunday, many blamed Trump’s policies for the bloodshed.
“The consequences of Donald Trump unilaterally dispatching fed’l law enforcement into U.S. cities played out in Portland w/a peaceful protester shot in the head,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) tweeted. “Trump & Homeland Security must now answer why fed’l officers are acting like an occupying army.”
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler (D) demanded federal agents in Portland start following local rules, which prohibit police from firing tear gas or less-than-lethal rounds unless lives are in danger.
“I’m concerned that the actions of federal officers escalated, rather than de-escalated, already heightened tensions in our city,” Wheeler said in a Sunday statement.
The U.S. Marshals Service said on Sunday that it is investigating the incident, which happened while officers were “securing the perimeter of the federal courthouse,” according to a statement sent to The Washington Post. The Department of Homeland Security, which also has agents at Portland’s protests, did not respond to a request for comment late Sunday.
As protests against police brutality and racial inequality have gripped the nation since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Portland has become a tense staging ground for nightly battles between protesters, police and right-wing groups. DHS recently dispatched officers from more than a half-dozen agencies and departments to Portland to tamp down the demonstrations, the Associated Press reported on Friday.
As the AP reported, the role is unusual for an agency built in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks with a focus on preventing foreign attacks. The federal surge to Portland comes as Trump has promised a strong response to protesters who deface monuments and other property. Trump boasted last week about the federal presence in Oregon’s largest city.
“It was out of control,” Trump said of Portland to acting homeland security secretary Chad Wolf on Friday, the AP reported. “The locals couldn’t handle it and you people are handling it very nicely.”
That’s not how local officials viewed it. Portland Deputy Police Chief Chris Davis told the AP the feds don’t coordinate with his agency, and complained “it does complicate things for us” to have them on the streets.
On Saturday night, officers from the Marshals Service lined up outside the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse, which has become a nexus for protesters. La Bella was standing in a park across the street when the officers began firing, his friends told Oregon Public Broadcasting.
“He’s been completely nonviolent the entire time he’s been down there,” Elton Rosas said of La Bella. “He helps de-escalate situations. Out of all people, he’s one of the nicest kids you will ever meet.”
Video shows La Bella’s head jerking backward as he’s hit. Other protesters rushed to his aid, and another graphic video shows blood pooling off his forehead as they carry his limp body away. Desiree La Bella, his mother, told the Oregonian on Sunday that he required surgery.
“He still has a tube in his skull to drain the blood,” she said, adding he was awake and able to move his limbs, but showed signs of confusion and had vision problems.
Local and state politicians reacted with fury to the role of federal agents in the incident.
“The events of last night at the federal courthouse were the tragic and avoidable result of President Donald Trump, for weeks, continuing to push for force and violence in response to protests,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) said in a statement. “The cycle of violence must end.”
Portland Commissioner Chloe Eudaly blasted the officers’ “reckless and inexcusable behavior.”
“It’s unfortunate that Trump cares more about protecting monuments and buildings than he does people’s lives and constitutional rights,” Eudaly told the Oregonian. “We didn’t invite or ask for this overblown intervention by the federal government.”
Another city commissioner, Jo Ann Hardesty, called for the feds to leave Portland.
“We have had more than enough,” she tweeted. “The federal troops need to withdraw immediately, and after that we have the hard task of picking up the pieces and responding to what the public and this movement asks of us.”
Ben Guarino contributed to this report.