Documentary photographer Rian Dundon was on assignment for the Economic Hardship Reporting Project on July 17, 2020, when a federal officer targeted him with crowd-control munitions while he was covering protests in downtown Portland, Oregon, according to a lawsuit the photographer filed in 2022.
Protests had been held in Portland on almost a nightly basis since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. 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. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documented assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering BLM protests across the country.
Dundon filed a lawsuit against the regional director of the Department of Homeland Security, which coordinated the federal presence in Portland, and more than 100 federal officers in April 2022. Dundon declined to comment on advice from counsel.
According to the suit, Dundon was standing alone on the sidewalk of SW Madison Street between 3rd and 4th avenues, while the nearest group of protesters was half a block away outside the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building.
Dundon noticed several federal officers positioned among the shrubbery around a nearby plaza so he approached to take a picture through the chain-link fence separating the sidewalk from the park.
“When he raised his camera to photograph the scene, a DHS agent trained his weapon on Plaintiff and fired several rounds of pepper balls, striking the fence and sidewalk near his feet,” the lawsuit states. “The pepper balls exploded on contact and released a powder into the air. They came in direct contact with Plaintiff, causing him injury.”
The lawsuit alleges that the officers violated Dundon’s First and Fourth Amendment rights and restricted his ability to cover the protests. Neither Dundon’s attorneys nor DHS responded to requests for additional information.
“Targeting journalists was not a quirk of the federal enforcement efforts, it was one of its objectives,” the suit alleges. “DOJ and DHS agents could have completed the objectives of their response without causing harm to Plaintiff.”
Dundon is seeking noneconomic, economic and punitive damages in the lawsuit.