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US: Three officers in Portland may be permanently blinded

On July 21 2020, a federal official told a press conference that three federal agents in Portland, Oregon may have been permanently blinded during demonstrations at a federal courthouse.

Claims of eye injuries


Officers were attempting to defend the building. "When [Federal Protective Service] officers responded to put out these fires, glass bottles were thrown and lasers – which can cause permanent blindness – were shined in their eyes. We have three officers who currently have eye injuries and they may not recover sight in those eyes from those laser attacks," said FPS Deputy Director of Operations Richard Cline.

The assertion was repeated on July 24 by White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany: "….tragically, three federal officers were likely left permanently blinded by the rioters using lasers pointed directly into their eyes." On July 28, Attorney General William P. Barr, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, wrote in his prepared remarks that "A number of federal officers have been injured, including … three who have suffered serious eye injuries and may be permanently blind."

As of July 28 2020, there was no additional information about the officers' diagnosis or prognosis. [Incidentally, some news sources and commentators have stated flatly that the officers are permanently blind. The fact that there has been only one official statement on the prognosis ("they currently have eye injuries and they may not recover sight") has been lost or ignored.]

[See the August 4 2020 update below where it appears the three officers are OK.]


Reporters noted red, green and purple laser beams aimed at officers through the courthouse doors. At least one person may be charged. According to the Associated Press, "[c]ourt papers in a federal case against a man accused of shining a laser in the eyes of Federal Protective Service agents show that Portland police turned him over to U.S. authorities after federal officers identified him." ProPublica reported that the charging documents said an agent "reported seeing spots in his eyes for 15 minutes after the laser attack.) [As of July 30, LaserPointerSafety.com has not been able to find the filing or any additional information about this case.]

Force authorized against laser attacks


In response, Customs and Border Protection has authorized the use of "less-lethal force" against protesters with lasers. CBP said in a memo that pepper spray balls or beanbag shotguns are allowed because lasers aimed at eyes or through camera lenses are "remarkably dangerous because of their concentrated energy."

Protesters using lasers would first be issued a verbal warning. Then CBP agents targeted would decide whether less-lethal force is justified. The calculation should be based on the crime committed and the level of danger.

“Officers/agents are authorized by law to use objectively reasonable force to effect the arrest and protect against harm to the officer/agent or others,” wrote Charles A. Bishop, who oversees the agency’s law enforcement compliance directorate. “Officers/agents should consider all reasonable tools, tactics and equipment to cease an assault with a handheld laser in accordance with CBP Use of Force Policy and U.S. constitutional standards.”

Bishop said without a threat of serious bodily injury or death, “CBP does not recognize the threat of handheld visible lasers as one that would require a deadly force response.”

Eyewear purchased to defend against lasers


To defend themselves the Federal Protective Service is buying 1,000 pairs of Stingerhawk FT-2 Laser Protective Eyewear from Revision Military. In its sole-source contract document dated July 10 2020, FPS said "readily accessible and affordable" lasers can cause dark spots, hazy vision, headaches or retinal bleeding. The contract also noted that Seattle police officers who used laser-resistant glasses "expressed that they were very effective."

From Fox News (initial blinding report), the New York Post (White House statement), Politico (AG Barr statement), the Associated Press via MSN (court papers), ProPublica (15 minutes of spots), the Washington Times (CBP response), Williamette Week (FPS eyewear)

For more information, see the page
Laser use during protests and LaserPointerSafety.com news articles about non-laser eye injuries during protests.

UPDATE AUGUST 4 2020: The three officers said to possibly have permanent blindness appear to be OK, with their sight recovered. In Senate testimony, a Department of Homeland Security official said there were 113 eye injuries to federal officers in Portland, and "[s]o far they've all kind of come back". The Federal Protective Service is part of DHS, so the official's statement would have included the three injured officers.