U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Journalist hit with crowd-control munitions, assaulted by police at protest

Incident Details

Date of Incident
September 18, 2020
Portland, Oregon
Case number
Case Status
Type of case


Was the journalist targeted?

Police officers at a Black Lives Matter protest in Portland, Oregon, on Sept. 18, 2020, where journalist Melissa “Claudio” Lewis was shot with crowd-control munitions fired by federal agents and thrown to the ground by police.

September 18, 2020

Independent journalist Melissa “Claudio” Lewis was hit in the leg repeatedly with crowd-control munitions fired by law enforcement, then grabbed and thrown to the ground by a police officer while documenting a Black Lives Matter protest in Portland, Oregon, on Sept. 18, 2020.

The protest was one of the many that broke out across the U.S. that year in response to police violence and in support of the BLM movement following the murder of George Floyd. As the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has documented, an unprecedented number of journalists were assaulted and arrested at these protests, including in Oregon, where the ACLU later filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of journalists and legal observers who were targeted and attacked by police.

Lewis joined a separate civil suit on Nov. 1, 2020, charging that the City of Portland, Multnomah County, and various law enforcement officials violated the constitutional rights of people with disabilities during BLM protests that year.

Lewis and three other Oregonians with disabilities who either documented or participated in the protests accused law enforcement of assaulting them multiple times and of generally acting without regard for their disabilities. Lewis has photosensitive epilepsy and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that increases the risk of injury and makes it difficult for her to move quickly.

In the complaint, Lewis describes Department of Homeland Security agents firing tear gas, pepper balls and Stinger grenades (which contain rubber pellets and the same ingredient used in pepper spray) into the crowd of people assembled at the Sept. 18 protest near a Portland branch of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Lewis, who shielded herself with a door, says she was shot in the leg seven times during the barrage.

Later that night, according to the complaint, Lewis was perched on the tailgate of a truck to film the actions of law enforcement agents when a police officer grabbed her by her backpack and threw her off the truck and onto the curb, where she hit her back and hips. Lewis later went to the emergency room and was diagnosed with oxycodone for the severe pain caused by the impact.

In October 2021, the court approved a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims in the lawsuit, ruling that they had failed to prove that the city customarily violated the constitutional rights of people with disabilities when responding to protests. The plaintiffs then filed an amended complaint, which did not include Lewis.

Lewis told the Tracker that she ultimately withdrew from the suit because of issues with her legal representation.

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