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Seattle Protests for Civil Rights
caption: The federal courthouse in downtown Seattle.
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The federal courthouse in downtown Seattle.
Credit: KUOW photo/Gil Aegerter

More federal agents sent to Seattle. Mayor Durkan says the city wasn't told in advance

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan's office said Thursday that federal law enforcement agents are in the area — on "standby" to protect federal buildings.

The revelations about their presence in the Seattle area come amid an ongoing clash between protesters and federal agents stationed in Portland since earlier this month.

In a statement, Durkan said if federal forces intervene against demonstrators like they have in Portland, the city of Seattle is prepared to pursue "every legal recourse."

A spokesperson for the mayor said Durkan learned of federal agents being sent to Seattle by a New York Times reporter and was not notified ahead of time. Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best also said that her department had neither requested, nor been included in any discussions about a federal police presence in the city.

Earlier Thursday, the mayor's office had said that Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf had said he would notify city officials if federal agents were being sent to Seattle. Then Durkan said on Friday morning that Wolf had told her his agency "has no plans and sees no need to send federal forces into Seattle."

Despite that claim, King County Executive Dow Constantine confirmed via Twitter Thursday night that his office had received confirmation that a federal plane carrying more than a dozen personnel had landed at Boeing Field.

Durkan reiterated on Friday that the city is still seeking clarification from the Department of Homeland Security about where exactly the agents are stationed and the details of their plans. She was reluctant to say she had been lied to, but did point to "semantics that weren't forthcoming."

Federal authorities sent extra agents to Portland to police the downtown area around the July 4 holiday. Portland has seen nightly civil rights protests surrounding racism and police violence for nearly two months.

The federal courthouse there has become a focal point of protests, and federal agents have responded with what appears to be indiscriminate use of tear gas, rubber bullets, and other weapons. Oregon Public Broadcasting has reported that several people have been snatched from the streets by unidentified officers in unmarked vehicles.

"I think it's important that what we're seeing in Portland, and what the president has threatened is not the norm," Durkan said on Friday. "In fact, it is contrary to how federal government usually works with local law enforcement."

Durkan, a former U.S. Attorney, added that local and state officials are gearing up for a potential legal battle over the presence of federal agents in the region, despite the Trump administration's assurances.

"We have a president that has been very conflict oriented," Durkan said. "And to be fair, I don't trust this President. I trust him to say what he does when it comes down to conflict. But we've got to prepare for any scenario and that's what we're trying to do."

The current U.S. attorney for western Washington, Brian Moran, issued a statement Friday saying the extra agents in Seattle are there to protect federal property.

He said someone broke into the federal courthouse in Seattle over the weekend, burned a flag and painted graffiti.

"Let’s not let the violence that has marred the Portland protests damage peaceful movements here for a more just society," Moran said.

Gov. Jay Inslee also said he was excluded from any conversations about an increased federal presence in Washington state. He tweeted that his staff was repeatedly told by the federal government there was no surge of personnel to Seattle.

A federal judge on Thursday ruled that federal agents and officers could not use force against journalists and legal observers at the protests. That order, issued in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, is in effect for 14 days.

This story has been updated to include new information.