U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Videographer says Portland police officer hit her in the neck with a baton

Incident Details

Date of Incident
August 7, 2020
Portland, Oregon
Case number
Case Status
Type of case


Was the journalist targeted?

Federal law enforcement in Portland, Oregon, in August 2020, during one of many Black Lives Matter protests that year. Journalist Melissa “Claudio” Lewis told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker an officer hit her in the neck with a baton at an Aug. 7 protest.

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 livestreaming a demonstration in August outside a building where various law enforcement agencies had offices when a police officer hit her in the back of the neck with a baton, causing a contusion.

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 7, 2020

Independent videographer Melissa Lewis said police officers hit her in the neck with a baton while she was covering a protest in Portland, Oregon, on Aug. 7, 2020.

The protest was one of many that have broken 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. 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.

On the night of Aug. 7, Lewis was livestreaming a demonstration outside the Penumbra Kelly building in northeast Portland. The building, which houses the Multnomah County Sheriff's office and some Portland Police Bureau units, has been a repeated focus of demonstrators.

Shortly after protesters arrived around 10 p.m., police declared an “unlawful assembly,” according to KGW8. The local news outlet quoted the PPB as saying that after officers began making arrests, “members of the crowd started throwing rocks toward officers.” Oregon State Police officers were also involved in the enforcement effort, according to the story.

Lewis said that at around 11 p.m. police officers rushed towards a group of protesters, driving them south of the Penumbra Kelly building. While advancing on protesters, police officers swung batons at them, Lewis told the Tracker.

Lewis, who was wearing a helmet and backpack with the words “press” on them, said one officer swung a baton at her and hit her “on the base of my helmet, right where it ended, right on my [cervical] spine.”

The next day, Lewis went to the emergency room to get an X-ray. “Can’t rotate my head all the way back or side to side,” she tweeted. She also posted a picture of her diagnosis — a contusion to the neck.

“I was tender over the bones,” she told the Tracker.

The PPB has said it wouldn’t comment on incidents involving journalists covering the protests, citing continuing litigation.

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