Independent journalist Mason Lake said he was shot by law enforcement officers with a projectile that injured his arm while covering protests in Portland, Oregon, on May 31, 2020.
Lake, a videographer based in Portland, was filming one of the many protests that broke out across the U.S. in response to police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man. A viral video showed a white police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck during an arrest in Minneapolis. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.
In Portland, protests over the death of Floyd began on May 29, prompting Mayor Ted Wheeler to declare an 8 p.m. curfew that lasted three days. Lake, who wasn’t wearing anything to identify himself as press, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he was documenting protesters at Southwest Main Street and Southwest Third Avenue around the time the curfew was going into effect on May 31.
Lake said law enforcement officers began using force against protesters.
“The police gave no announcement. They were shooting tear gas with no warning,” he said.
Derek Carmon, a Portland Police Bureau spokesman, disputed Lake’s version of events. He told the Tracker that it is “not our practice to use any crowd-control device without warning. Multiple announcements were given in the area during that time frame.”
Video taken by Lake at around 8:05 p.m. shows protesters in a haze of tear gas. One of the law enforcement officers stationed at the Multnomah County Justice Center can be seen throwing a flash bang grenade at protesters, and an announcement can be heard warning that the officers will use force if the demonstrators don’t leave.
In another video Lake sent to the Tracker, at around 8:10 p.m., he filmed demonstrators kneeling and chanting across from the Justice Center building. Somebody near Lake yells, “incoming!” Then the video goes askew as Lake yells in pain.
When Lake recovers, he films his injured arm and says, “I just got shot by the Portland police.”
“It shoved my hand and left me with welts,” Lake told the Tracker. “I stayed for a little bit to keep recording, but the tear gas came on, and I had to leave and recover.”
Lake said he believes he was hit by a “foam baton,” a projectile used by law enforcement officers for crowd control, due to the sound it made. The Tracker couldn’t independently verify what kind of munition was used.
He said both the Portland Police Bureau and Multnomah County Sheriff's Office policed protests that day. It isn’t clear which agency the officer who fired the shot works for.
On June 6, Lake filed a lawsuit against the City of Portland over the alleged battery by the police that occurred on May 31, seeking up to $450,000 in damages. “Mr. Lake believes he was specifically targeted by City of Portland police officers because he was a photographer documenting police brutality,” the lawsuit states.
Portland City Attorney Tracy Reeve told the Tracker she couldn’t comment on pending litigation.
In an emailed response to questions about Lake’s allegations, Carmon of the Portland Police said: “If it is Portland officers in the video who use force, they know that all uses of force are required to be documented in a police report and administratively reviewed per our policy to determine if they meet our standards. If there is a determination that something was out of policy, it would follow the process for investigation with [Independent Police Review]/[Internal Affairs] to determine if discipline is warranted.”
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists being assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas, or having their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country. Find these incidents here.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect information gained from a copy of Lake's lawsuit against the City of Portland.