Independent photojournalist Mathieu Lewis-Rolland’s hearing was damaged when a federal officer threw a flash-bang grenade at him while he was covering a protest in Portland, Oregon on Oct. 6, 2020.
Lewis-Rolland, whose work has been published by Reuters, Agence France-Presse and other news outlets, was covering one of the many Portland Black Lives Matter protests that had been ongoing for months following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020.
Law enforcement officers in Portland have targeted journalists since the outbreak of the demonstrations, according to a class-action lawsuit filed in June by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon. A temporary restraining order in early July, barring the Portland police from harming or impeding journalists, was expanded to include federal agents later that month. Lewis-Rolland is a plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit.
On the evening of Oct. 6, protesters marched to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building on South Macadam Avenue in south Portland, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting. Federal Protective Service officers, who were guarding the building, declared an unlawful assembly, according to a statement from the Portland Police Bureau. When a protester threw a smoke bomb onto the roof of the building, agents began using flash bang grenades and tear gas to disperse demonstrators, OPB reported.
Lewis-Rolland told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he was standing in front of the ICE building around 11 p.m. when the federal officers opened the door and rolled a flash-bang grenade toward him.
In one video posted on Twitter by photographer Clementson Supriyadi, Lewis-Rolland can be seen in a fluorescent yellow vest. He moves to the side of a walkway leading to the entrance of the building as law enforcement officers emerge through the door. One agent throws a metal canister toward Lewis-Rolland, who does not appear to be standing near any protesters or other people. The flash-bang grenade explodes a few feet from the photographer, spewing white fog.
Lewis-Rolland told the Tracker the agents gave no warning.
“I couldn't even react,” he said. “It happened so fast.”
In another video from a different angle, posted on Twitter by Garrison Davis at 10:57 p.m., Lewis-Rolland can be seen in the very first seconds, jumping as the device explodes. He staggers a few steps, before falling to the ground.
Lewis-Rolland told the Tracker that after the explosion, he was dizzy for the rest of the night. He said he sought medical help for the damage to his hearing in his left ear and was treated with prednisone.
Lewis said he didn’t return to news coverage for a month after the incident. Nearly six months later, he said he still has very loud tinnitus in his left ear because of the blast, and loud noises cause his hearing to crackle.
In addition to the bright yellow vest, Lewis-Rolland told the Tracker he was wearing a black helmet marked “PRESS” and carrying two large cameras.
The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.