Mathieu Lewis-Rolland said he was shot with pepper balls and targeted with a tear gas grenade on the morning of July 21, 2020 in Oregon, Portland. Multiple other journalists also reported being targeted with crowd-control munitions that day.
The journalists were covering one of the many protests that broke out in response to police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following the May 25 death of George Floyd. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.
The Portland protests, held nightly since late May, 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.
Demonstrations that began the night of July 20 stretched into the early hours of the next day, according to the Oregonian, as the “Wall of Moms” and other protesters confronted federal officers stationed at the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse and the Multnomah County Justice Center downtown.
After retreating, federal agents emerged again after 2 a.m. to use crowd control munitions to disperse the smaller group of protesters that remained at the courthouse, according to the Oregonian. Around that time, agents shot pepper balls at Lewis-Rolland and threw a tear gas grenade in his direction, he said.
In footage of the incident that Lewis-Rolland provided the Tracker, he can be heard saying, “This is what makes me nervous, when there’s all this smoke and they don’t know who is who.”
Seconds later, federal officers begin to fire in his direction and he moves behind a tree.
“I have my hands in the air, I’m marked as press, I’m being fired upon,” Lewis-Rolland can be heard saying as he backs away. Then one officer advances towards him and tosses a tear gas grenade in his direction.
Lewis-Rolland’s helmet, T-shirt and backpack were all marked “press,” according to an interview he did with Buzzfeed. He also said he wrapped his Nikon camera in fluorescent tape so that officers don’t mistake it for a weapon.
Lewis-Rolland told Buzzfeed that officers were pointing their weapons at protesters and press alike that night. "I saw them pointing them at everybody and anyone, including me," he said, adding, “Last night was the most horrifying thing I have ever experienced in my life.”
Lewis-Rolland, a defendant in the ACLU class action suit, provided testimony about an incident earlier in July in which he was injured by munitions fired by federal agents.
DHS, which has coordinated the federal presence in Portland, said in a statement that officers used pepper balls and tear gas to respond to an “assault” against the courthouse and law enforcement officers by rioters. The agency didn’t respond to a request for comment on the incidents.
The Portland police said in a statement that its officers weren’t present and didn’t engage with protesters that evening.