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Montana COVID-19 testing lab
Montana COVID-19 testing lab
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Boulder River Bridge view
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Montana Fress Press explores forgotten communities
Montana Governor Steve Bullock at Innovate Montana 2019
Montana Governor Steve Bullock at Innovate Montana 2019
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Bikers and Hikers stranded at Mystic Lake Cabin
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XL OK for Montana
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Newly released state data shows high testing rates in Native communities, low rates in some rural counties

by Eric Dietrich
Aug. 4, 2020


As the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed in Montana, no two parts of the state have been afflicted in quite the same way. While the state’s total case count figure — 4,314 and counting as of Aug. 4 — drives headlines, communities ranging from Browning to Bozeman to Miles City have seen their coronavirus stories play out along particular lines.

As such, county-level figures can be more useful than statewide statistics for Montanans looking to understand how the virus is hitting close to home. County-level case counts, published by many local health departments and available on the state’s official COVID-19 dashboard since early in the outbreak, provide perhaps the clearest measure of the virus’ local presence.

But as Montanans try to make sense of their local numbers, a key piece of the data puzzle — the number of COVID-19 tests conducted in each county — hasn’t been available, making it difficult to assess how thoroughly some corners of the state have been monitored for the disease. In April, an effort by Montana Free Press and other news outlets to compile testing numbers for each county identified significant gaps in the state’s efforts to track testing data.

Now, newly released data from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services fleshes out Montana’s coronavirus picture, with some caveats, by showing how many tests were administered in each of the state’s 56 counties week by week through July 18.

County testing rate and case rate trends

Weekly figures for top 12 Montana counties by known COVID-19 cases.

 Tests conducted per 10k residents (Top)

 New cases per 10k residents (Bottom)

Data: Montana Dept. of Public Health and Human Services. Graphics: Eric Dietrich / MTFP

The figures show increasing testing rates over time in Montana’s urban counties, including Yellowstone (Billings), Gallatin (Bozeman) and Missoula, as the easing of early-pandemic supply shortages let public health workers ramp up their testing programs. Additionally, spikes from mass testing events are visible in several communities during weeks when large testing events took place.

Additionally, almost five months months into the pandemic, the reported testing rate between Montana’s most- and least-tested counties varies dramatically — the product of focused surveillance testing in high-risk Native American communities and what health officials say is the tendency for people in some low-population rural counties to go elsewhere for health care.

Glacier County, for example, has tallied a total of 7,129 tests among its 13,800 residents in state data current through July 24. That puts the county, which encompasses most of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, at about 5,200 tests per 10,000 residents.

Judith Basin County east of Great Falls, in contrast, tallied 7 tests among its 2,000 residents, a testing rate of 35 tests per 10,000 residents (two of those tests came back positive). In Petroleum County, population 500, not a single COVID-19 test has been recorded as of July 24.

The data does come with some asterisks, meaning these figures may not align precisely with coronavirus data published in other places. For example, the weekly counts provided by the state health department are based on the date the tests were conducted — not, as is the case with many publicly available coronavirus statistics, the date results became available.

Importantly, the health department also says the counts reflect the counties where the tests were conducted, not necessarily the counties where the tested people live. So if, for example, a Judith Basin resident drove into Great Falls for a test at one of the city’s regional health care providers, they would have been tallied in Cascade County. That means the new data still isn’t a complete measure of how many people have been tested for the virus in particular communities, and may overstate the number of tests conducted on people who live in regional health care hubs.

Jim Murphy, the health department’s chief epidemiologist, pointed to that caveat as the likely explanation for low testing numbers reported for some rural counties

“When you look at a county that doesn’t show up much on there, I don’t think that should say anything about whether that county is not looking hard enough,” Murphy said. “There are some things we don’t know about their numbers.”

Murphy also said the state tracks COVID-19 hospitalizations and monitors emergency room admission data for reports of influenza-like symptoms, which gives epidemiologists other ways to catch an emerging outbreak.

The testing figures also include repeated tests conducted on the same patients, meaning the figures aren’t necessarily a precise reflection of how many people have been tested for the coronavirus. Murphy said he doesn’t have an exact count of the number of repeated tests in the state’s data, but believes they represent less than 5% of the total.

As Montana entered the early stages of its phased reopening in late April after Gov. Steve Bullock’s late-March stay-at-home order, the governor announced a push to scale up testing efforts to help inform the state’s pandemic response. In aggregate, the state has reached a 15,000-tests-per-week goal set by Bullock.

In addition to testing patients with coronavirus symptoms and people who’ve had contact with confirmed cases, the state has focused COVID-19 monitoring efforts on two settings with particularly vulnerable populations: nursing homes, which have seen devastating outbreaks in Montana and elsewhere, and tribal communities.

Testing events in tribal communities, where health officials have been concerned about crowded housing and pre-existing health conditions, are visible in week-by-week county testing counts. Big Horn County, for example, which spans most of the Crow Indian Reservation, reported 303 tests the week ending May 30. After testing events in Crow Agency and Lodge Grass the following week, it reported 1,151.

Mass testing events were held in June and July in communities including Poplar, Wolf Point, Lame Deer, Arlee, Pablo, Browning, Hays and Wolf Point, according to the state coronavirus task force.

Murphy also said that testing has in some cases been driven by local outbreaks, as contact tracing efforts tied to known cases kick in and front-line health care providers become more aggressive about ordering tests on more patients with virus activity confirmed in their communities.

Custer County, including Miles City, for example, posted relatively low weekly testing numbers through mid-June, when a local outbreak was identified. It reported 46 tests the week ending June 13, eight of them returning positive. The following week, 432 tests identified 19 coronavirus cases. The next week after that, the county registered 1,317 tests.

“It’s highly influenced by what clinicians are doing and what they’re seeing in nearby communities or their own communities,” Murphy said. “Testing goes up dramatically if they’re worried they might miss a diagnosis.”

The flip side, Murphy added, is that it isn’t necessarily a problem if a community without a known outbreak isn’t doing a lot of testing.

“They simply may not have any reason to be looking really hard, and given the fact that testing still requires some resources, we appreciate that,” he said. “If they don’t need to be testing, they shouldn’t be.”

Top of Form

The data used for this story, obtained by MTFP July 30 via a records request, is available for download here, as are print- and web-optimized versions of story graphics for news outlets looking to republish this piece under MTFP’s story-sharing terms. The code used to produce these graphics //observablehq.com/@eidietrich/montana-weekly-covid-19-tests-data">is available here.

National Republican Senatorial Committee ads allege Gov. Steve Bullock directed state contracts to Pioneer Technical Services, co-founded by his brother.


Two recent ads paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the most recent released today, say Gov. Steve Bullock, who is running to unseat U.S. Sen. Steve Daines in November, “has been accused of steering state grants” to a business formerly owned by his brother.

“Steve Bullock supports … making deals to help his own family,” the narrator of the most recent ad says. “Think about that.”


The ads don’t name the company and provide few other details, but say a company associated with Bullock’s brother, William Bullock, has received $14 million in state grants and contracts. A Friday press release announcing the new ad says those contracts were awarded during Bullock’s tenure. 

The company referred to in the ads is Pioneer Technical Services, company president and CEO Brad Archibald said in an interview Friday. William Bullock co-founded the company in 1991. The Butte-based engineering and environmental services company currently employs 150 Montanans and is employee-owned. 

When the first advertisement started airing, Archibald and an attorney for the firm sent letters to broadcasters asking that it be taken off the air, saying the ad falsely claims that Bullock approved contracts for the company to benefit his brother. 

“The contracts [the company] has to perform work for Montana were awarded through the normal state competitive process because of Pioneer’s track record of excellent work and its sterling reputation,” the company’s lawyer, Karl Englund, wrote in a July 27 letter.  


It’s true that Pioneer Technical Services has been awarded millions in state contracts during Bullock’s tenure as governor, but the governor doesn’t have any say in the awarding of contracts, state officials said Friday. 

The company received its first government contract in 1992, long before Bullock became a political figure, and has regularly won contracts with the state since then, Archibald said. Pioneer has received more than $14 million in state contracts since Bullock took office in 2013. 

But Bullock has had no say or role in awarding those contracts, officials with the state’s Department of Administration said. Contract award authority is delegated to the Department of Administration. That authority, and a prohibition against favoritism in the awarding of government contracts, is defined in state statute, they said. 

“The governor has no involvement in the procurement or contracting process for the state of Montana. The authority is granted by statute to the Department of Administration,” said department spokeswoman Amber Conger. “[Bullock] has no involvement. And there’s no instance where he would have involvement in the contracting or awarding of contracts. It’s a competitive bidding process.”

William Bullock left the company in 2004 and sold his shares in Pioneer in 2009, according to letters the company and its attorney sent to broadcasting companies asking that the ads be taken off the air. 

William Bullock has served as chairman of the company’s board of directors since 2017. In that role he and other board members receive $1,500 quarterly to cover expenses and time spent in board meetings. He otherwise has no financial stake in the company, Englund said in the July 27 letter. 

Archibald also said the company hasn’t directly received any state grants — as distinct from contracts — while Bullock has been in office. He said the grant allegation might refer to work that a municipal government — which could have received a state grant — contracted with Pioneer to complete on its behalf. 


The ads imply that Bullock uses his position to benefit friends and family members over everyday Montanans. The ads include no factual information about William Bullock’s involvement with the company, and provide no evidence that Pioneer’s contracts with the state benefited the governor’s brother or were awarded because of William Bullock’s relation to the governor. 

Instead, the ads rely on listeners and viewers to connect the dots and conclude that Pioneer received state contracts during Bullock’s tenure as a result of “corruption and nepotism,” Archibald alleged in a July 24 response to the first ad.  

“Importantly, our advertisement did not comment on why Steve Bullock directed state business that utilized your company,” Ryan G. Dollar, NRCS’s general counsel, wrote in a July 27 letter to William Bullock, Pioneer Technical Services and Archibald. “[W]e left it up to Montanans to draw their own implications about Steve Bullock’s direction over this state business.”

In a press release announcing the launch of the second advertisement, NRSC spokesman Nathan Brand was more explicit, alleging that the contracts are proof of corruption and cronyism: “Bullock will put his own interests first, even when it costs hardworking taxpayers.”


Sean Manning, a spokesman for Bullock’s Senate campaign, said the NRSC claims “are just not supported by the facts.”

“Governor Bullock’s brother resigned from Pioneer Technical Services before the Governor was elected to public office, and his brother sold his shares in 2009 — four years before Bullock became Governor,” Manning wrote in an email to Montana Free Press. “It is absolutely false that the Governor ‘steered’ contracts to this Montana business — all contracts are issued in compliance with state procurement laws. Senator Daines should tell his allies in DC to take down this outright misleading ad that defames a Montana company.”

Contractors took steps to limit the spread after an earlier outbreak at the site. It didn’t work.

by Johnathan Hettinger
July 30, 2020



A construction site at Spanish Peaks Mountain Club in Big Sky, photographed April 13, 2020. Credit: Jake Rayapati / MTFP


The construction site of a $400 million luxury resort in Big Sky has led to at least 116 COVID-19 cases in July, public health officials confirmed to Montana Free Press.

The outbreak is one of the largest in the state. It is also unique in that the outbreak affects workers traveling to work in the community from outside of Gallatin and Madison counties, where Big Sky is located.

“This has been a big concern for us because of the number of positives,” said Gallatin City-County public health officer Matt Kelley in an email Wednesday.

Gallatin County has had the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases of any county in Montana, with a total of 813. The county recorded 135 active cases as of Wednesday, according to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. The cases at the resort are not all included in Gallatin County’s total, Kelley said.

The Montage Big Sky luxury resort at the Spanish Peaks Mountain Club, where residences range in price from $5.76 million to $18.1 million, has been touted by Forbes as “the first ultra-luxury five-star resort in the entire state.” The construction site was an early source of infection in Montana, with six workers testing positive in March. At the time, Suffolk Construction, the Boston-based general contractor for the project, said it was taking extensive steps to limit the spread of COVID-19, including temperature checks, six-foot social distancing supported by audible warning devices and thorough cleaning. 

However, as COVID-19 spread throughout Montana, those measures have not prevented an outbreak at the resort.

After a worker on the job site tested positive for COVID-19, Suffolk implemented its own testing regimen beginning July 8, the company said in a statement. The company said it did so in order to ensure worker safety and to help preserve limited local resources. 

“Everyone who tested positive for COVID-19 were asymptomatic and passed a temperature test prior to testing positive. All individuals who tested positive were sent home and asked to self-isolate per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines,” the company said in a statement.

At first, the positivity rate at the site was over 20%, Kelley said. 

“They ramped up testing to test everyone on the site on an ongoing basis, and I have asked them to continue that moving forward,” he said. “They’ve done more than 800 tests since July 8.  The most recent results had a positivity rate around 5 to 6%, which is more in line with what we are seeing countywide for testing. That’s encouraging, but I want them to continue testing and I’d like to see even fewer cases in the future.”

The private testing did create some difficulties for Gallatin County, Kelley said. The lab that Suffolk contracted to perform the testing was not validated with the state until this week, so results were difficult to interpret at first. The state is now validating the results.

Along with the validation, the cases are now starting to be reported in their home county or state, Kelley said. 

Kelley said the private company employed by Suffolk did initial contact tracing, but now that the state has validated the test results, Gallatin County is doing contact tracing for the positive cases associated with the county, he said.

Kelley said he is encouraged by the positivity rate’s decline in recent weeks, and that the company has cooperated with the health department to communicate its issues.

“Looking forward, my expectation for the company is to continue wide-scale testing on the site and to continue to collaborate with our staff to limit spread through isolation and quarantine,” Kelley said. “Of course, we are also working with them to make sure they continue to do employee monitoring for symptoms, regular disinfection, and mandatory face coverings throughout the site.”

Suffolk said in a statement that it will continue “smart testing for the foreseeable future,” including testing all new individuals to the jobsite and testing random samples of workers at random intervals.


This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Johnathan Hettinger is a journalist based in Livingston. Originally from Central Illinois and a graduate of the University of Illinois, he has worked at the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, the Livingston Enterprise and the (Champaign-Urbana) News-Gazette. Contact Johnathan at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and follow him on Twitter.

July 29, 2020



(Bozeman)As of Wednesday, July 29, 2020, at 12 p.m. Gallatin County has 18 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, for a cumulative total of 824. There are 61 confirmed active cases and four current hospitalizations. There have been a total of 761 people recovered in Gallatin County. Two people have died from COVID-19 complications. Two cases that were previously reported in other areas have been reassigned to Gallatin County and added to previous days’ totals. The new cases are located across Gallatin County and are related to community transmission, contacts to known cases and travel. More data can be found on Gallatin City-County Health Department’s dashboard on our website here. This dashboard will be updated by 12 p.m. daily. Information on statewide cases continue to be found here. Please note that local data may differ from data about Gallatin County provided by the state as the Gallatin City-County Health Department may be alerted to additional cases before the state. The Gallatin City-County Health Department calculates the recovered case number as the number of total cases minus any active cases, current hospitalizations and deaths. A COVID-19 test result tells us only one thing - the status of someone at the moment in time when they were tested. It does not tell us if they’ve been exposed in the past or if they’ll get sick in the future. Someone without symptoms can test negative one day, even as they are incubating the virus, and then become a contagious COVID-19 case due to exposure that occurred prior to testing. A negative test result only tells us that someone is not positive at the moment the specimen was collected; it does not rule out if someone is incubating the disease.


A dozen protesters facing federal charges are barred from going to “public gatherings” as a condition of release from jail — a tactic one expert described as “sort of hilariously unconstitutional.”


Federal authorities are using a new tactic in their battle against protesters in Portland, Oregon: arrest them on offenses as minor as “failing to obey” an order to get off a sidewalk on federal property — and then tell them they can’t protest anymore as a condition for release from jail.

Legal experts describe the move as a blatant violation of the constitutional right to free assembly, but at least 12 protesters arrested in recent weeks have been specifically barred from attending protests or demonstrations as they await trials on federal misdemeanor charges.

“Defendant may not attend any other protests, rallies, assemblies or public gathering in the state of Oregon,” states one “Order Setting Conditions of Release” for an accused protester, alongside other conditions such as appearing for court dates. The orders are signed by federal magistrate judges.

For other defendants, the restricted area is limited to Portland, where clashes between protesters and federal troops have grown increasingly violent in recent weeks. In at least two cases, there are no geographic restrictions; one release document instructs, “Do not participate in any protests, demonstrations, rallies, assemblies while this case is pending.”

Protesters who have agreed to stay away from further demonstrations say they felt forced to accept those terms to get out of jail.

“Those terms were given to me after being in a holding cell after 14 hours,” Bailey Dreibelbis, who was charged July 24 with “failing to obey a lawful order,” told ProPublica. “It was pretty cut-and-dried, just, ‘These are your conditions for [getting out] of here.’

“If I didn’t take it, I would still be in holding. It wasn’t really an option, in my eyes.”

It could not be learned who drafted the orders barring the protesters from joining further demonstrations. The documents reviewed by ProPublica were signed by a federal magistrate in Portland. Magistrates have broad authority to set the terms of release for anyone accused of a crime. They typically receive recommendations from U.S. Pretrial Services, an arm of the U.S. Courts, which can gather input from prosecutors and others involved in the case. ProPublica identified several instances in which the protest ban was added to the conditions of release document when it was drafted, before it was given to the judge. It remained unclear whether the limits on protesting were initiated by Justice Department officials or the magistrates hearing the cases.

Constitutional lawyers said conditioning release from jail on a promise to stop joining protests were overly broad and almost certainly a violation of the First Amendment right to free assembly.

“The government has a very heavy burden when it comes to restrictions on protest rights and on assembly,” noted Jameel Jaffer of Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute. “It’s much easier for the government to meet that burden where it has individualized information about a threat. So for example, they know that a particular person is planning to carry out some unlawful activity at a particular protest.”

Over the past week, the federal government has sharply increased the number of protesters it’s charging with federal crimes — often for petty offenses that are classified as federal misdemeanors only because they occur on federal property. Court documents reviewed by ProPublica show that over a third of the protesters are charged with “failing to obey a lawful order,” which 14 protesters were charged with between July 21 and July 24 alone.

The office of the U.S. attorney for Oregon, Billy J. Williams, did not respond to ProPublica’s questions about who was making charging decisions. In a recent interview with The Oregonian, Williams urged local citizens to demand that “violent extremists” who have attempted to break through the fence outside the federal courthouse leave. “Until that happens, we’re going to do what we need to do to protect federal property.”

Craig Gabriel, an assistant U.S. attorney who works for Williams, insisted the office understood and respected the right to protest racial injustice. “People are angry. Very large crowds are gathering, expressing deep and legitimate anger with police and the justice system,” Gabriel told The Oregonian. “We wholeheartedly support the community’s constitutionally protected rights to assemble together in large, even rowdy protests and engage in peaceful and civil disobedience.”

Gabriel did not mention the written restrictions against protest that have been made a condition of release for some of those arrested.

Several protesters who were let go on July 23 had bans against demonstrating added by hand on their release documents by Magistrate Judge John V. Acosta, who signed off on them, a review by ProPublica found. Acosta’s office did not respond to ProPublica’s questions.

For those released on July 24, the restriction was added to the original typed document, also signed by Acosta. One protester arrested and released earlier in the month had his conditions of release modified at his arraignment on July 24. The modified order, signed by Acosta, added a protest ban not previously included.

Three of the 15 protesters charged on July 27, in orders signed by Magistrate Judge Jolie A. Russo, also had explicit protest restrictions added to their release terms. (One release order has not yet been posted to the federal courts database.) Russo’s office did not reply to ProPublica’s questions.

“I don’t see that as constitutionally defensible,” Jaffer said. And I find it difficult to believe that any judge would uphold it.”

The ACLU’s Somil Trivedi said, “Release conditions should be related to public safety or flight” — in other words, the risk that the defendant will abscond. “This is neither.” He described the handwritten addition of a protest ban to a release document as “sort of hilariously unconstitutional.”

Publicly, the Trump administration has claimed that it has no problem with the protests that erupted in Portland and other American cities in response to the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man, in police custody in Minneapolis. The administration said it launched Operation Diligent Valor in July with a massive deployment of federal officers merely to protect federal property from “violent extremists.”

Geoffrey Stone of the University of Chicago Law School said that imposing a protest ban as a release condition undermines the distinction between protected protest and criminal activity. “Even if they’re right that these people did, in fact, step beyond the bounds of the First Amendment and do something illegal, that doesn’t mean you can then restrict their First Amendment right.”

A court order prohibits a Portland protester from attending “any other protests, rallies, assemblies or public gatherings in the state of Oregon.” The defendant’s name was redacted by ProPublica. (Obtained by ProPublica)

In many cases, the charges leveled at Portland protesters are closely tied to their presence at the protest — and not to any violent acts.

Eighteen of the 50 protesters charged in Portland are accused only of minor offenses under Title 40, Section 1315, of the U.S. Code. That law criminalizes certain behavior (like “failure to obey a lawful order,” as well as “disorderly conduct”) when it happens on federal property or against people who are located on that property. In other words, it describes behavior that wouldn’t otherwise be a matter for a federal court.

Dreibelbis, like other protesters to whom ProPublica has spoken, said he was arrested for being on the sidewalk outside the federal courthouse. Because the federal government owns the land under the sidewalk, another protester (who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid influencing his upcoming trial) told ProPublica it’s “common knowledge” among protesters that the sidewalk is a no-go zone, and setting foot on it risks federal prosecution.

Dreibelbis told ProPublica he roller-skated into the protest, expecting to attend only briefly. He said he knelt on the sidewalk and was arrested by officers. (The charging document filed against Dreibelbis offers no arrest details.)

Section 1315 is the same law the Trump administration is using to justify initiating the federal show of force in Portland, which the administration has said it intends to employ in other cities where protests have raged since Floyd’s death.

The law allows the secretary of homeland security to supplement the Federal Protective Service, the relatively small agency partly responsible for federal building security, with law enforcement agents from the department’s other agencies (such as Customs and Border Protection).

Both President Donald Trump and his predecessor, Barack Obama, have invoked that part of the law in the past. But the use of that same law to file criminal charges appears to be novel. The Obama administration sent a “surge force” of 400 FPS agents, and a dozen CBP agents, to Baltimore in 2015, when the police killing of Freddie Gray sparked broad unrest, but no charges were filed under Section 1315 itself in that response.

In Portland, the federal government has relied on the FPS and U.S. Marshals to write affidavits used to charge protesters in federal court. But it has detailed other agencies on the protest front lines: DHS agencies cited in court complaints include CBP, through its BORTAC tactical unit; Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s investigations unit; DHS’ Office of Intelligence and Analysis, in addition to FPS. Complaints also cite the U.S. Marshals and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which are Justice Department entities.

In the first weeks of the operation, the most common charge against protesters was assault of a federal officer — which, in some cases, counted as a crime on federal property because protesters on the streets were shining lasers at officers inside the courthouse. (DHS has claimed that some officers may permanently lose their vision, but as of July 24, the most serious injury detailed in federal charging documents was an agent who reported seeing spots in his eyes for 15 minutes after the laser attack.)

Over July 23 and 24, however, 10 of the 13 cases opened were charges only of “failing to obey a lawful order.” (One other defendant was charged with assaulting a U.S. Marshal while detained inside the courthouse — where she had been taken after an arrest for “failing to obey a lawful order.”)

Since then, almost all cases have accused protesters of assaulting a federal officer (generally a misdemeanor charge).

In many of the assault cases, files are thin and no details of the allegations have been posted, even for protesters charged as early as July 6. No case files identify an alleged victim — either by name or by the “unique identifier” on their uniforms. (DHS officials have claimed it’s unfair to describe the federal agents in Portland as “unidentified” because they clearly show identification.)

Even those defendants who aren’t explicitly barred from attending protests are unable to return to the epicenter of Portland’s unrest as a condition of their release. They are placed under a curfew (either from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. or 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.) and told not to go within five blocks of the courthouse grounds except for court hearings.

Experts said that while restrictions of that sort are common, they’re still questionably constitutional. “Though ‘stay away’ orders from a place where a potential crime has been committed are generally standard,” the ACLU’s Trivedi said, “‘stay away’ orders from public places that are part of the public square are more questionable.” But he and others conceded that the government could make an argument that it was necessary to prevent further wrongdoing.

They saw no legitimate rationale for a blanket ban on protests.

“I suppose the government could argue, ‘You disobeyed a law enforcement officer at a protest, and we don’t trust you to not do it again,’” Trivedi said. But the release documents already instruct defendants that they are not allowed to break any laws while awaiting trial.

“If they want to say ‘don’t break a law again,’ they’ve already said that,” Trivedi told ProPublica. “Beyond that, the only part that’s left would be not letting you exercise your First Amendment right.”

Driebelbis, for his part, must now watch the protests proceed without him. “I work across the water from the protests, and I can see it every” night, he told ProPublica. “I’m protesting from this side.”

He hastened to clarify that he didn’t mean he was attending a protest in violation of the court order. “Not protesting! There’s no protesting going on in the party of one. But I am there in spirit.”

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