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Prosecutors: Agents will probe crimes, not bust protests

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Federal prosecutors in Milwaukee and Detroit worked Wednesday to dispel concerns that federal agents headed to their cities will be used to break up protests, insisting that the agents will work side-by-side with local and state investigators to solve violent crimes.

President Donald Trump recently sent federal agents to Portland, Oregon, to protect federal property during the almost daily protests in the city since the death on May 25 of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The decision has drawn heavy criticism because the agents have been accused of overstepping that mandate, arresting people without probable cause, whisking them away in unmarked cars and using excessive force. Oregon’s governor, Kate Brown, said Wednesday that the agents would begin a “phased withdrawal” from Portland starting Thursday.

Trump announced last week that he was sending agents to more U.S. cities, including Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee, to combat a rise in violent crime as part of an operation that started last year. That announcement raised fears among Democrats that those agents’ real mission is to bust up protests. Gov. Tony Evers has complained that the Trump administration never consulted him on the agents’ deployment and said the agents aren’t welcome in the state.

Matthew Krueger, the U.S. attorney in Milwaukee, told reporters during a news conference Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Justice started an operation in December to bolster the number of agents in high-crime cities to target violent offenders and high-level drug and weapons traffickers. He noted that there had been 97 homicides in Milwaukee this year as of Tuesday, up from 52 during the same period of 2019.

The operation was supposed to have been expanded in the spring, but the coronavirus pandemic delayed that move until July. The Milwaukee area also will receive $12 million in federal aid as part of the operation, the prosecutor said.

Krueger, who is a Trump appointee, said he spent last week informing local and state authorities of the agents’ mission, but the media have confused the agents’ mission with what’s happening in Portland.

“If you use the words Portland, Oregon, you only sow confusion,” he said. “You will not see federal agents amassing on the streets of Milwaukee. These aren’t beat cops. They’re trained investigators.”

He said a total of 25 to 30 agents from the FBI, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alochol, Tobacco and Firearms would be deployed in Milwaukee. Ten who arrived this month are in the city temporarily. The others will be permanently assigned to the city.

In Detroit, federal authorities said dozens of agents and deputy marshals are being assigned to the city to combat gun violence and arrest fugitives, among other tasks. They will collaborate with Detroit police.

U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said “federal troops” are not patrolling the streets and he dismissed as “irresponsible rhetoric” any suggestion that the government wants to disrupt lawful protests against racism and excessive police force.

Earlier this week, Detroit Police Chief James Craig said more than 500 guns were seized during a recent four-week period. He welcomed any additional federal help.

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