Federal officers target independent journalists with pepper balls, tear gas

Two independent journalists said they were targeted with crowd-control munitions by federal agents while they were covering protests in downtown Portland, Oregon early on July 23, 2020.

Reporter and photojournalist Shauna Sowersby was shot in the ribs with pepper balls. Photojournalist Mathieu Lewis-Rolland was hit in the chest with a tear gas canister.

Protests had been held in Portland on almost a nightly basis since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering BLM protests across the country.

The Portland protests had grown more intense as the presence of federal law enforcement increased in early July. A temporary restraining order on July 2 that barred the Portland police from harming or impeding journalists wasn’t expanded to include federal agents until July 23. Lewis-Rolland is a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon.

Sowersby, whose work has been published by the Daily Beast, KNKX Public Radio and the Pacific Northwest nonprofit news outlet Crosscut, was near the right side of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse early that morning.

When federal agents approached the crowd shooting pepper balls, an officer aimed one directly at her, which hit her on her ribs, she posted on Twitter at 2:20 a.m.

“At the moment, I kind of blacked out for a second because it’s very painful,” she told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

Sowersby said she felt that police clearly aimed the pepper ball directly at her, and she was targeted as a member of the press. She said she was holding her camera and wearing a press badge, and was clearly marked as a member of the media.

After leaving the scene briefly, she went back to cover the protests, still affected by her injury.

“You’re just kind of running on adrenaline at that point right so you get back in and I covered the rest of the night everything, but it was very painful,” she said.

A photograph she posted on Twitter later that morning showed a red welt on her torso where she was struck. A few days later, she went to the emergency room and was told by doctors she had sustained a small rib fracture and rib contusion, she said.

Sowersby said that she hasn’t pursued any action against the federal agencies to recover her medical costs, which totaled around a couple thousand dollars. She told the Tracker she thinks it is unlikely that filing a complaint or trying to recover the costs would have any effect.

Lewis-Rolland, whose work has been published by the Portland Mercury, The New York Times and Reuters, said he was struck in the chest with a tear gas canister fired by federal agents early the morning of July 23.

Video shared by Lewis-Rolland with the Tracker shows canisters of tear gas being shot down the middle of an empty street, when sparks suddenly fly close to the frame. Lewis-Rolland abruptly jerks his camera, and as he moves away, a tear gas canister is visible on the sidewalk.

In an Aug. 10 document filed in the ACLU lawsuit, Lewis-Rolland said that the canister struck him.

“In the early morning of July 23, federal agents directly targeted and hit me in the chest with a tear-gas canister.”

According to the court papers, when he was covering protests in Portland at that time in July he had started wearing a fluorescent vest with a transparent pocket, where he displayed a press badge issued by the Portland Mercury. He also wore a helmet and backpack with the word “PRESS” written in several places.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which has coordinated the federal presence in Portland, didn’t respond to a request for comment about the incidents.

Two independent journalists said they were targeted with crowd-control munitions by federal agents while they were covering protests in downtown Portland, Oregon early on July 23, 2020.

Reporter and photojournalist Shauna Sowersby was shot in the ribs with pepper balls. Photojournalist Mathieu Lewis-Rolland was hit in the chest with a tear gas canister.

Protests had been held in Portland on almost a nightly basis since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering BLM protests across the country.

The Portland protests had grown more intense as the presence of federal law enforcement increased in early July. A temporary restraining order on July 2 that barred the Portland police from harming or impeding journalists wasn’t expanded to include federal agents until July 23. Lewis-Rolland is a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon.

Sowersby, whose work has been published by the Daily Beast, KNKX Public Radio and the Pacific Northwest nonprofit news outlet Crosscut, was near the right side of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse early that morning.

When federal agents approached the crowd shooting pepper balls, an officer aimed one directly at her, which hit her on her ribs, she posted on Twitter at 2:20 a.m.

“At the moment, I kind of blacked out for a second because it's very painful,” she told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

Sowersby said she felt that police clearly aimed the pepper ball directly at her, and she was targeted as a member of the press. She said she was holding her camera and wearing a press badge, and was clearly marked as a member of the media.

After leaving the scene briefly, she went back to cover the protests, still affected by her injury.

“You're just kind of running on adrenaline at that point right so you get back in and I covered the rest of the night everything, but it was very painful,” she said.

A photograph she posted on Twitter later that morning showed a red welt on her torso where she was struck. A few days later, she went to the emergency room and was told by doctors she had sustained a small rib fracture and rib contusion, she said.

Sowersby said that she hasn’t pursued any action against the federal agencies to recover her medical costs, which totaled around a couple thousand dollars. She told the Tracker she thinks it is unlikely that filing a complaint or trying to recover the costs would have any effect.

Lewis-Rolland, whose work has been published by the Portland Mercury, The New York Times and Reuters, said he was struck in the chest with a tear gas canister fired by federal agents early the morning of July 23.

Video shared by Lewis-Rolland with the Tracker shows canisters of tear gas being shot down the middle of an empty street, when sparks suddenly fly close to the frame. Lewis-Rolland abruptly jerks his camera, and as he moves away, a tear gas canister is visible on the sidewalk.

In an Aug. 10 document filed in the ACLU lawsuit, Lewis-Rolland said that the canister struck him.

“In the early morning of July 23, federal agents directly targeted and hit me in the chest with a tear-gas canister.”

According to the court papers, when he was covering protests in Portland at that time in July he had started wearing a fluorescent vest with a transparent pocket, where he displayed a press badge issued by the Portland Mercury. He also wore a helmet and backpack with the word “PRESS” written in several places.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which has coordinated the federal presence in Portland, didn’t respond to a request for comment about the incidents.


This content originally appeared on U.S. Press Freedom Tracker: All Incidents and was authored by U.S. Press Freedom Tracker: All Incidents.


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