U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Photojournalist struck with with projectiles, tear gassed by federal agents while covering a Portland protest

Incident Details

July 22, 2020

Photojournalist Mathieu Lewis-Rolland was hit with crowd-control munitions and tear gas fired by federal agents while covering protests in Portland, Oregon, on July 22, 2020, causing damage to his camera.

Lewis-Rolland, an independent photographer whose work has been published by the Portland Mercury, The New York Times and Reuters, was covering one of the protests that had been held in Portland almost nightly 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 Black Lives Matter protests across the country.

The Portland protests 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. Lewis-Rolland is a plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon, that led to the ban.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who had been criticized for his handling of law enforcement during the protests, attended the demonstrations the night of July 22. Protesters confronted the mayor for tactics the city police used to crack down on demonstrators, according to local news outlet KATU, while the mayor spoke out against the presence of federal law enforcement agencies in Portland.

Lewis-Rolland was standing about six feet from the mayor outside the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse, a focal point of the protests, when he was hit with munitions, according to a statement he provided for the ACLU case.

In a video Lewis-Rolland posted on Twitter, a crowd is seen up against the metal fence that had been set up around the courthouse. A round of shots can be heard, followed by Lewis-Rolland exclaiming, “I just got shot! I just got shot!” As he moves away from the fence, a white cloud of tear gas envelopes the crowd, including the mayor, who can be seen facing the fence and wearing a blue shirt and goggles.

“So if life could't get any stranger for me, last night I was shot with less lethal's by feds and then tear gassed all while standing next to @tedwheeler, the mayor of Portland, Oregon,” Lewis-Rolland wrote in the post.

Wheeler was likely hit with tear gas at around 11:15 pm., according to KATU.

In the court statement, Lewis-Rolland said the munitions first hit the metal fencing, and the shrapnel damaged his camera and backpack. He didn’t respond to a request for comment about the damage to his equipment.

In the statement, Lewis-Rolland said that beginning on July 22, he started wearing a reflective yellow vest with a transparent pocket, where he displayed a press pass issued by the Portland Mercury. He also had “press” marked on his white bicycle helmet and on his backpack.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which has coordinated the federal presence in Portland, didn’t respond to a request for comment about the incidents.

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