Dave Killen, a staff photographer for The Oregonian, said he was struck with a rubber bullet fired by federal law enforcement officers while he was covering protests in Portland, Oregon, in the early morning hours of July 26, 2020.
Killen was one of the many covering protests that broke out in Portland in response to police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following the May 25 death of George Floyd. 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.
One of the main demonstrations taking place the night of July 25 — and stretching into the next morning — was held outside the Mark O. Hetfield federal courthouse, where federal law enforcement officers were stationed.
A little after 1 a.m. Portland police declared a riot after a section of the fence surrounding the federal courthouse was torn down.
Killen documented what he described to the Tracker as a “huge” response to the fence removal by federal agents, who began deploying “tons and tons” of tear gas. After retreating a block west for a few minutes, Killen returned to the area around the courthouse, where there appeared to be a “slight lull” since protesters had largely scattered.
When a fresh standoff soon appeared to be brewing, Killen started taking photos of federal agents as they moved down the street. That’s when he was struck on the side of the stomach by what he believes was a rubber bullet.
“I suddenly got hit by something big,” he said. “It just sort of dropped me. I realized right away what it must have been because I’m very familiar with all the munitions and I’ve been hit by pepper balls dozens and dozens of times over the years, so I knew it wasn’t a pepper ball.”
Killen believes he was targeted, since he was well in front of most protesters, and the agents were just just 20 or 30 feet away when he was hit. While some protesters may have been in the area, he said he didn’t have to worry about bumping into anybody as he walked around taking photos without looking where he was going.
“I feel like at that distance, with that weapon, I don’t think there’s any way he wasn’t aiming for me,” Killen said.
His gear also made it obvious that he was press, said Killen, noting that he had press credentials around his neck and was shooting photos with one camera and while another camera was hanging at his side.
Killen said he was knocked off his feet by the impact, but was able to continue working. After he informed his newsroom of the incident, he was pulled back for the night.
Killen said the munition left a huge bruise in the immediate aftermath, and that he still had a scar more than four months later.
The Department of Homeland Security, which coordinated the federal presence in Portland, didn’t respond to a request for comment. The PPB has said it wouldn't comment on incidents involving journalists covering the protests, citing continuing litigation in the ACLU case.