Independent videographer struck with tear gas canister while covering Portland protest

January 20, 2021

Independent videographer Melissa Lewis said she was struck with a tear gas canister fired by federal officers while covering a protest in front of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in southern Portland, Oregon, on Jan. 20, 2021.

According to news reports, an estimated 100 people marched to the ICE facility around 9 p.m. and began chanting to protest the detention and holding of migrant children in cages. At 9:30 p.m. federal officers declared the gathering an unlawful assembly, the Oregonian reported.

Lewis, who has sold her footage to ABC, The Daily Beast and Oregon’s Willamette Week, among others, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker she was filming as federal officers advanced on the crowd and one officer began using a strobe light.

In footage she posted to Twitter and labeled “Attack part 2,” a line of law enforcement officers can be seen shining lights toward the crowd. One officer turns on a strobe light and, as it flashes, Lewis appears to duck briefly behind a demonstrator’s shield. She then comes out from behind the shield and yells “You’re being sued for strobing epileptics!” Immediately after she speaks, an officer on the right-hand side of the line can be seen aiming and firing a projectile toward Lewis.

Lewis said she was struck in the upper thigh with what she believes was a Triple-Chaser, a type of tear gas canister that breaks apart to disperse tear gas across a wide area. Multiple other journalists also reported being struck with crowd-control munitions while covering protests that day, which the Tracker has documented here.

Of her comment about the strobe light and epileptics, Lewis said “I reminded them [law enforcement] about something that I am actively suing them for.”

Lewis and independent researcher and scientist Juniper Simonis are both plaintiffs in a November 2020 suit filed by Disability Rights Oregon against the City of Portland and 100 law enforcement officers. The suit says it aims to “stop local, state, and federal law enforcement from assaulting, brutalizing, and failing to reasonably accommodate people with disabilities during assemblies and protests.”

The Department of Homeland Security, which coordinated the federal law enforcement presence, didn’t respond to a request for comment on the incident.

The ICE protest was one of many social justice demonstrations in Portland that have been ongoing since protests first broke out in May 2020 following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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