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Federal agents may be permanently blinded by lasers used during Portland riots

Protests at Portland, Oregon's Federal Courthouse were met with tear gas and "less-lethal" munitions and many arrests, July 16, 2020, on 50th night of demonstrations in the city. (John Rudoff/Sipa USA/TNS)
July 31, 2020

Three federal officers may suffer permanent blindness after “violent anarchists” in Portland shined lasers in their eyes early last week.

At a press conference following the July 20 confrontation, Federal Protective Service (FPS) Deputy Director of Operations Richard “Kriss” Cline said more than 1,000 “rioters” surrounded the Hatfield Federal Courthouse in Portland and started removing plywood coverings. The rioters then attempted to throw incendiary objects through the windows at the federal officers inside.

The rioters also vandalized the building with spray paint, blocked adjacent intersections, and set multiple fires.

“When officers responded to put out these fires, glass bottles were thrown and lasers – which can cause permanent blindness – were shined in their eyes,” Cline said. “We have three officers who currently have eye injuries and they may not recover sight in those eyes from those laser attacks.”

Rioters aimed red, green and purple lasers at federal officers through the courthouse doors while one group used a strobe light on the building. The rioters had also torn down fencing, launched fireworks at the courthouse and barricaded the front entrance, potentially trapping officers inside.

The FPS has purchased anti-laser glasses that federal officers are now wearing to prevent future eye injuries.

Crowds of more than 1,000 people have gathered in Portland for over 50 consecutive nights. Federal officers responded to the lasers, fireworks, and fires by deploying pepper balls and tear gas.

“The reasons increased DHS personnel are in Portland is twofold: One, violent criminal activity every single night for 52 nights, and two, the lack of action from city officials and law enforcement,” said Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf during the press conference. “We see [the rioters] planning their attacks. Yet the city of Portland takes little to no action to stop or disperse this crowd. These individuals carry lasers, baseball bats, explosive fireworks, metal pipes, glass bottles, accelerants, and other weapons all targeting federal facilities and federal law enforcement.”

According to Wolf, the individuals congregating in Portland are “organized” and they “have one mission in mind: to burn down or cause extreme damage to the federal courthouse and law enforcement officers.”

Seven people were arrested during the conflict Monday night, including two for allegedly assaulting federal officers.

During the Monday-night conflict, officers also watched one individual taking pictures of a water intake system to the Edith Green Federal Building, which is also under FPS protection. Earlier that night, a Twitter user reportedly said, “So we can shut off the water to the buildings the feds are staying in to make it a nightmare for them.”

“We will support and protect those who want to peacefully protest,” Wolf said. “Unfortunately, what we are seeing in Portland every night, roughly from midnight to 4:30 or 5 a.m., is the complete opposite. Again, what is occurring in Portland in the early hours of every morning is not peaceful protesting.”