Freelance journalist Michael Elliott said he was struck in the face with a pepper ball fired by federal officers while he covered a protest in front of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in 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 caging of migrant children. At 9:30 p.m., federal officers declared the gathering an unlawful assembly.
Elliott, who says his work has been published by VICE, Oregon Public Broadcasting and Willamette Week, among others, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he was photographing a protester from approximately 10 to 15 feet away shortly after 11 p.m. as they attempted to extinguish a tear gas canister using a Super Soaker water gun.
“Federal Officers began firing on the protester with the Super Soaker repeatedly hitting him with pepper balls,” Elliott said. Both he and the protester were ultimately pinned down, he said, as additional officers began firing rounds of tear gas, pepper balls and Skat Shells — a type of munition that produces fire and disperses chemical irritants — toward them. Elliott said one of the pepper ball rounds struck him during this volley.
Immediately, Elliott said, his eyes swelled shut and felt like they were on fire.
“Medics responded after witnessing the impact and noted a substantial cake of white dust on each of my eyelids,” Elliot told the Tracker
Elliott said that while he typically wears a gas mask, he had forgotten it that day as he left to document the protest.
The Department of Homeland Security, which coordinated the federal 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.