August 5, 2020 at 9:40 am EDT | by Kaela Roeder
Federal agents target nonbinary Portland protester
Juniper Simonis (Photo courtesy of Juniper Simonis)

PORTLAND, Ore. — Denied medical attention, misgendered, jumped and aggressively handcuffed. These are the abuses that Juniper Simonis, a genderqueer nonbinary pansexual person, suffered after federal authorities took them into custody last month during a protest in the city.

Simonis was drawing property lines with surveying chalk in front of the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building in downtown Portland on July 10. Simonis three days earlier attended a vigil at the same location to honor Summer Taylor, a Seattle protester who was hit and killed by a car in early July.

Federal authorities violently disrupted the vigil.

In the days between the vigil and Simonis’ arrest, they traced the property lines of the federal building in chalk to help protestors avoid trespassing. Simonis also frequently shouted from a distance at agents, asking why the vigil had been disrupted.

Simonis, a 35-year-old quantitative ecologist, has been involved in the protests in Portland since they began in late May. Simonis has marched, provided medical attention and put out fires at the demonstrations — often helping to keep the peace.

“(We) are there to put our bodies, and our lives, and our money and energy towards protecting those who are standing up for their rights right now,” they said.

Simonis believes federal agents targeted them because of the information they have been collecting and sharing on social media. This information included the property lines of federal buildings, photos of agents with their badge numbers, and details about federal police funding.

Simonis also said they feel they were targeted because they are “visibly queer and trans,” and visibly disabled because of their use of a service dog.

“I am a marginalized sitting duck in some respects,” they said.

While Simonis said what happened to them was traumatizing, they do not want their experience to detract from the Black Lives Matter movement. Simonis also believes they survived their detention because they are white.

“We can’t have everybody focusing on the white people getting kidnapped when Black people are still getting killed day-to-day,” they said.

Flashbang grenade thrown at Simonis during previous protest

Federal agents during the July 7 vigil stormed the area. Simonis suspects federal officers were targeting a specific protestor in the crowd for arrest, but to their knowledge, no arrests were made. Simonis described the vigil as peaceful and said there was no provocation for the agents to disperse it.

Amid the disruption, while federal officers were moving back towards the building’s entrance, they threw a flashbang grenade at Simonis and their service dog, Wallace. The agents who conducted the raid were unknown to Simonis, and they couldn’t determine what organization or bureau they represented.

“I was super pissed,” said Simonis. “I spent the next 36 hours trying to figure out who these guys were.”

After fruitless calls to the Portland Police Bureau and the Multnomah County Police Department to help identify the federal agents, Simonis decided to take matters into their own hands.

Knowing the federal agents in question often stood outside the building watching protestors, Simonis decided to research where the property lines of the building are. They wanted the agents to explain why they had disrupted a peaceful vigil, without risking being arrested for trespassing. On July 8 and 9, Simonis marked the divide between federal and public property with chalk to ensure their safety.

“I wanted to stand on the sidewalk and fucking yell at these people, and I wanted to know where I was legally allowed to do that,” Simonis said.

For two days, Simonis documented agents moving in and out of the federal building and eventually identified the officers as members of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service.

Simonis on July 9 said they saw multiple federal agents storm out of the building towards them when they were on the southeastern corner of it. 

Simonis, who was aware of the arrest of other protestors throughout Portland, said they expected to be “snatched.” But, the agents retreated back into the building.

Simonis at 8:30 p.m. on July 10 returned to the federal building to touch up the chalk line and continue protesting.

As they were fixing the lines near the front entrance, Federal Protective Service and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents surrounded Simonis, threw them to the ground and handcuffed them.

“They do not say anything. They don’t say, ‘stop.’ They don’t say, ‘what are you doing?’ They don’t say ‘get off our property’ … they don’t say anything. They just streamed out of the front of this building and snatched me,” Simonis said.

Simonis provided the Washington Blade with a video of their arrest.

Simonis said officers used mace and separated them from their service dog.

“As someone who already has PTSD, who already has almost been killed multiple times, including by someone grabbing me from behind, what I instantly get shunted into is a fight or flight response,” they said.

Simonis was detained in handcuffs in the building foyer for an hour before being taken down to the basement. There, agents told them they were under arrest for spray painting federal property.

“Even though everything I had in my hands was chalk — it was clearly chalk — they just assumed I was doing something illegal, even though I knew I wasn’t, and I had all of the documentation to show them that I wasn’t,” Simonis said.  

When Simonis was taken into the federal building foyer, an officer offered medical attention, but Simonis requested a trained medical professional flush their eyes and tend to their open wounds.

Two Portland Fire and Rescue members arrived an hour later, but Simonis said they only made matters worse.

According to Simonis, the medical team did not properly flush their eyes, mouth and nose with pressure. Rather they splashed saline solution from an IV bag into the affected areas. Simonis also said the medical team did not remove their contact lenses, even though they repeatedly asked them to do so.

During the hour before Simonis said federal officers insisted they lay on their side during the hour before they received medical treatment. They said this caused the mace to pool in their nasal passages, rather than drain away. The medical team also held Simonis on their side as they began treatment, which caused their nose to become full of water, which exacerbated their breathing issues caused by the mace and subsequent panic attacks.

“It was basically like my head was being shoved under a pool for a minute,” Simonis said. They described the act as “being water-boarded.”

Simonis asked repeatedly for additional medical attention, including treatment for open cuts on their body. They were denied additional help.

“It’s really sad — as the daughter, granddaughter and niece of firefighters — to be saying this, but I am horribly disappointed and appalled at the actions of Portland Fire and Rescue,” Simonis said.

Throughout the time Simonis was in federal custody, they said they were repeatedly misgendered. The agents exclusively referred to Simonis, who identifies as nonbinary and has two forms of identification legally identifying them as a woman, as “sir.” Simonis said they also repeatedly corrected the officers, who did not respect their gender identity.

Despite the fact Simonis’ driver’s license and passport both identify them as a woman, the medical services receipt also listed their gender as male. Simonis also believes their identification had been reviewed, as the contents of their bag had been shifted when their possessions were returned to them.

Simonis was then taken to the adjacent Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse after two hours in the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building, and was held in a cell without access to a lawyer, phone call, sanitizer or water.

Prior to being placed in the cell, a male U.S. Marshal patted them down. Simonis requested a female agent for the procedure, but was told by an agent, “they don’t do that here.”

Simonis was still separated from their service dog when they were at the courthouse, and did not have access to their medication. Simonis said agents threatened to take their dog to a shelter, telling them their dog “would not be there when you get out.”

Juniper Simonis and Wallace, their service dog (Photo courtesy of Juniper Simonis)

Simonis was released on petty charges roughly six hours later. They are still awaiting a court date for failure to comply with a lawful order and assaulting, resisting or impeding officers.

Officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Protective Service and Department of Homeland Security did not respond to the Blade’s requests for a comment. Portland Fire Rescue and the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse have also not returned requests for comment.

Simonis has not proceeded formally with charges but plans to in the near future. They are planning to pursue a variety of legal actions, including individual and class action lawsuits.

“I have been getting all of my legal ducks in a row … while also trying to heal and support the movement,” they said. 

Simonis said they are also experiencing a variety of physical and emotional injuries from the event, including nerve damage in both hands after being handcuffed for two hours in metal cuffs latched too tightly.

“I told them repeatedly that my hands were going numb, and they repeatedly ignored me,” they said.

After they were released from federal custody, Simonis was diagnosed with neuropathy in both hands. Simonis said they still have not regained full mobility or feeling in their hands and the injuries have made it difficult to complete day-to-day activities, including walking their dog and typing on their computer.

Simonis is also experiencing heightened PTSD symptoms. They also said they are currently dealing with insomnia, dissociation of different parts of the body, manic episodes, a lack of appetite and suicidal thoughts.

Simonis said they are also dealing with hyper-vigilance. Simonis said they are often afraid passing cars are unmarked and being used by federal officers.  

“I am literally evaluating every car that drives by me. Hypervigilance is an understatement,” they said.

While they took a week off from participating in the protests, Simonis has been dropping off chalk in Portland for passersby to write messages on the sidewalk, because “that’s what I was arrested for doing.”

“I thought the best way to respond to the absurdity of being arrested for chalking on a city sidewalk by federal agents was to provide chalk for the rest of my community members to use, in a federally kidnappable way on our city sidewalk,” they said.

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