Reporter struck with flash-bang grenade shrapnel during Portland protest

July 30, 2020

Roman Mendoza, a reporter for the Davis Vanguard, a California nonprofit news organization, was struck with shrapnel from a flash-bang grenade and pushed by a police officer while covering protests in Portland, Oregon, on July 30, 2020.

The protest was held in response to police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, 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.

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 was expanded to include federal agents on July 23.

On the night of July 30, protesters gathered downtown at the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse, which had emerged as a nightly flashpoint between protesters and federal agents. The protest continued past midnight and into the next day.

Mendoza told the Tracker he was standing near the line of fences that federal officers had erected around the courthouse when officers began to disperse the crowd.

“The officers threw a flash-bang near me and it kind of nicked my leg,” Mendoza said. “That one I probably should have gotten stitches for.”

Mendoza received some basic first aid from a volunteer medic at the protest, who cleaned out the wound and wrapped it in gauze. He said the shrapnel cut a relatively deep, 2-to-2.5 inch gash in his leg.

“It took two or three weeks for my leg to fully heal and get back to where it was before,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza said he continued reporting that night after receiving medical attention. As he walked, he came upon a group of Portland Police Bureau officers who were sitting in a vacant parking lot alongside several police vehicles and riot vans on the edge of the protest.

“As I approached them, once I got to a certain point they told me that was far enough and to not continue moving forward,” Mendoza said. “They had just issued the TRO, so I told them, ‘I’m not here to do anything. I’m press so I’m not going to disperse right now.’”

One officer quickly approached him and told him that he didn’t have to disperse, Mendoza said, but that he did have to comply with officers’ orders to move back the two paces he had taken into the parking lot and return to the sidewalk.

“The officer then pushed me so I was back on the sidewalk,” Mendoza said. “That was unnecessary, but yeah. I just stayed there to document what these police officers were doing, and they just started heckling me.”

Mendoza said they said things along the lines of, “You’re a loser,” “Why don’t you get a real job?” and “You must not have a life if you’re out here.” Mendoza said the officers also told him that he “wasn’t a real man” alongside other sexist comments. After about 20 minutes, the officers left the parking lot to what Mendoza believes was the protest area.

In February 2021, Mendoza told the Tracker that he had filed a complaint with PPB about the officers’ behavior and had received notice the bureau was investigating it, but no other updates.

The PPB declined to comment when emailed about this incident. The Department of Homeland Security, which has coordinated the federal presence in Portland, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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

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