U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Videographer hit with tear gas canister during Portland protest

Incident Details

Date of Incident
August 20, 2020
Portland, Oregon
Case number
Case Status
Type of case


Was the journalist targeted?

Police detain a woman at an August 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in Portland, Oregon. Journalist Melissa “Claudio” Lewis told the Tracker she was hit with a tear gas canister fired by law enforcement at a Portland protest on Aug. 20.

November 1, 2020 - Update

Journalist joins civil rights suit against Portland, Oregon; later withdraws

Independent journalist Melissa “Claudio” Lewis joined a civil suit on Nov. 1, 2020, charging that the City of Portland, Oregon, violated the constitutional rights of people with disabilities during Black Lives Matter protests earlier that year, according to court documents reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

The civil rights suit was filed against Portland, surrounding Multnomah County and various law enforcement officials on behalf of four Oregonians with disabilities who either documented or participated in the protests. It accused law enforcement of assaulting the plaintiffs multiple times and of generally acting without regard for their disabilities.

Lewis was described in the suit as having photosensitive epilepsy and a connective tissue disorder that makes her susceptible to soft tissue tears and limits her ability to move quickly.

She told the Tracker that she was covering a demonstration in August outside a Portland branch of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when law enforcement fired a tear gas canister that hit her in the head.

In October 2021, the court approved a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims, ruling that they had failed to prove that the city customarily violated the constitutional rights of people with disabilities when responding to protests. The plaintiffs then filed an amended complaint, which did not include Lewis.

Lewis told the Tracker that she ultimately withdrew from the suit because of issues with her legal representation.

August 20, 2020

Videographer Melissa Lewis said a tear gas canister fired by law enforcement struck her in the head while covering a demonstration in Portland, Oregon, on Aug. 20, 2020.

Lewis was covering one of the many protests in Portland that have been held on almost a nightly basis since the death of George Floyd 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.

Law enforcement officers in Portland have targeted journalists since the outbreak of the demonstrations, according to a class-action lawsuit filed in June by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon. The ACLU suit led to the city agreeing to a preliminary injunction in July to not arrest, harm or impede the work of journalists or legal observers of the protests. The injunction was expanded to include federal agents later that month.

On the night of Aug. 20, protesters gathered outside the building housing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in southwest Portland. Demonstrators sprayed graffiti on the building and tampered with the gate and windows, according to local news station KPTV, prompting officers from the Portland Police Bureau and Federal Protective Service, who emerged around 11:20 p.m., to confront the group.

Lewis said she was hit with the tear gas canister during that same round of law enforcement fire, though the incident wasn’t captured on video. “I was standing in an area that was exposed. They shot a tear gas canister, and it hit me right in the head,” Lewis told the Tracker. “Thankfully I was wearing a helmet and my gas mask.”

Lewis then went to a hospital emergency room for treatment, she said. She tweeted the next day that she likely had a “mild concussion.”

Lewis said that while she didn't feel personally targeted by the officers, she does believe they were targeting the press assembled there.

A spokesperson for ICE referred the Tracker to FPS, a Department of Homeland Security agency that deployed to Portland, for comment, but the agency didn’t respond. PPB has said it wouldn't comment on incidents involving journalists covering the protests, citing continuing litigation in the ACLU case.

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