Independent journalist Seth Dunlap said his arm was fractured after being struck with what he believed to be a flash-bang grenade tossed by a police officer while he was covering a demonstration in Portland, Oregon, in the early hours of Aug. 9, 2020.
Dunlap, a contributor to the social media news outlet FrontLine Access, was covering one of the protests that 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 protests across the country.
Law enforcement officers in Portland have targeted journalists since the outbreak of the demonstrations, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon alleges in a class-action lawsuit. The ACLU suit led to the city agreeing to a preliminary injunction in July to not arrest, harm or impede the work of journalists and other legal observers of the protests.
Late on Aug. 8, Seattle-based Dunlap was covering a demonstration outside the Portland police union headquarters in North Portland. The Portland Police Bureau declared a riot around 11:40 p.m., after a group of demonstrators lit a fire inside the Portland Police Association building. The PPB and Oregon State Police used crowd-control munitions and physical force to disperse the crowd.
Just after midnight, Dunlap was standing near ACLU legal observers when what he described as a flash-bang grenade was thrown in his direction by a PPB officer, injuring his arm, he told the Tracker.
“Luckily I had my left arm up recording at the time, and the flash-bang went off and hit my arm,” Dunlap said. “Otherwise it probably would have hit my face, and who knows what would have happened then.”
Independent journalist Suzette Smith tweeted a video of the chaotic scene, writing that Dunlap was struck with a “less-lethal munition.”
“He was on the ground and unresponsive for an agonizing number of seconds, during the chaos of the rush,” Smith wrote.
Medics at the scene tended to Dunlap and Smith posted a photo of his bruised arm.
Dunlap said that hours after he was struck, he “one-arm drove” home to Seattle. The next day, his arm “swelled up like a balloon.”
He went to an emergency room and learned that the orbital bone in his left arm was fractured, he said. “So that basically put me out of work for about a month.”
Dunlap, who was wearing a helmet and reflective clothing with markings that identified him as a journalist, said he felt targeted as a member of the press. "Considering I’m 6’7” and was wearing very visible and reflective press gear, and I was standing in a group of neon green-clad legal observers, I believe it’s pretty clear they threw that munition at us intentionally,” he said.
PPB spokesperson Kevin Allen declined to comment on the incident in an email to the Tracker, citing the ongoing ACLU litigation.