Documentary photographer Rian Dundon was on assignment for the Economic Hardship Reporting Project on July 22, 2020, when he was repeatedly thrown to the ground and pinned down by a federal officer while covering protests in downtown Portland, Oregon, according to a lawsuit filed by the photographer 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 photographing a fire started outside the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse in downtown Portland alongside other journalists in a group away from protesters, and was wearing a press badge.
“Federal officers dressed in military fatigues and wearing gas masks approached Plaintiff [Dundon] and the other journalists from behind,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff turned to run, but federal officers grabbed him and threw him to the ground.”
Dundon landed on a live, unexploded gas canister which then exploded.
“Plaintiff stood and again tried to flee, but federal officers again threw him to the ground. Federal officers then pinned Plaintiff on the ground,” the lawsuit says. In footage of the incident, Dundon can be seen pinned under an officer as a cloud of gas engulfs them.
“One of the Marshals rips the press ID from around my neck,” Dundon wrote in a description of the incident for The Washington Post. “Another pinned me under the gas with his nightstick for 10 excruciating seconds before allowing me to leave the area.
“I walked home with third-degree burns that night, bedraggled but buzzing on residual adrenaline,” Dundon wrote.
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.”
The Tracker documented seven other journalists assaulted while covering the Portland protests that day.
Dundon is seeking noneconomic, economic and punitive damages in the lawsuit.