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US: 113 federal agents in Portland said to be injured by protesters' lasers; none were permanently blinded

Federal officers incurred 113 eye injuries during protests in Portland, according to Senate testimony from a U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official.

All officers recovered their sight, according to deputy director Ken Cuccinelli, speaking on August 4 2020. This appears to include the "three officers who currently have eye injuries and [who] may not recover sight." This statement was said on July 21 2020 by a Federal Protective Services official. (FPS is a division of DHS.) Some persons who repeated this, such as the White House press secretary and the Attorney General, repeated the "may not" qualifier, while others — generally news or commentators — said flatly that officers were permanently blinded.

Cuccinelli said "We've had a number of officers who have days-long blindness. So far they've all come back, if you will. But you also get what's called flash blindness … where you can't quite see your entire field of vision for a period." [As explained below, flash blindness is not an "eye injury" and should not have been included in the total of 113 "eye injuries.]

Cuccinelli told the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution that protesters began aiming at police from closer distances. Since laser beams spread out, this reduces the spread and thus increases the hazard potential. Protesters do this, he said, so police cannot identify suspects.

2020-08-04 DHS Senate hearing commercial grade laser CSPAN squashed


Cuccinelli demonstrated what he called a "commercial grade" laser by aiming it into his hand. He said such a laser could be purchased on Amazon.com.

During his testimony Cuccinelli stated there were at least 277 injuries to approximately 140 federal agents at the Portland federal courthouse. Of these, 113 were eye injuries (the most common), followed by noise injuries and injuries caused by contact with an object.

From the New York Post and the Portland Tribune. Also see our first story about the July 21 "three officers may be blinded" statement, and our page about Laser use during protests.


COMMENTARY FROM LASERPOINTERSAFETY.COM

It is certainly worrisome that such a large number of eye effects and injuries were reported. As discussed in depth on our "Laser use during protests" page, no one should aim a laser at anyone's eyes or head — not even in a protest situation.

On the other hand it is a relief that three injuries, said on July 21 to possibly be permanent, appear not to have had permanent effects. As Cuccinelli testified,"So far they've all come back, if you will."

IS FLASH BLINDNESS AN INJURY? NO.

Cuccinelli incorrectly seems to be including flash blindness as an "injury" in his list of 113. He correctly described flash blindness as being like "the old Kodak cameras where you get that blue spot" from the camera flash.

Laser flash blindness is essentially the same mechanism. Bright laser light causes a bright temporary spot with an afterimage that gradually fades away. The fading may take seconds, minutes or hours — but just like with an ordinary camera flash, it does fade, causing no permanent injury.

No one has ever said that a camera flash causes an eye injury. Therefore, the list of 113 injuries should NOT include camera flash-type temporary flash blindness.

Laser safety experts agree. Afterimages are not injuries since they are caused by saturation of rhodopsin or "bleaching" in the outer segments of photoreceptors that results in a localized reduced sensitivity for a time. In contrast, an injury results in a minimally visible lesion which histologically involves the retinal pigmented epithelium and the photoreceptors.

It is not known how many of the 113 stated "eye injuries" were flash blindness or similar (e.g., not actual injuries).

DOES AMAZON.COM SELL THESE? YES.

Cuccinelli said high powered lasers were available for sale at Amazon.com.

We conducted a search of Amazon's U.S. website on the evening of August 4 2020. The search term "high power laser pointer" turned up at least two listings for lasers that looked like what Cuccinelli demonstrated, both in size and in beam color. The two listings have different brand names (Loyalfire and JCKSY) but appear to be essentially identical, using similar or identical photos. Here is the Loyalfire laser:

2020-08-04 Amazon high powered laser Loyalfire squashed

From the form factor, type of battery, and description ("it can light a match or paper easily"), this laser device is likely substantially over the U.S. FDA limit of 5 milliwatts for a laser to be sold as a "pointer" or for pointing applications.

Amazon's laser policy in the past has been to not sell laser pointers or handheld lasers over 5 mW (e.g., Class 3B or 4). The policy currently is behind a wall so that only Amazon Sellers can see the policy.

The Loyalfire (and JCKSY, and many other lasers at Amazon) appear to violate that policy.

Note that sellers can get around this by avoiding the word "pointer"or "pointing", and by claiming their lasers are less than 5 mW. Yet based on the form factor, batteries, and description ("burning", "cutting") a buyer can suspect or know that the laser is well over 5 mW. As far as we know, Amazon does not test, validate, certify or otherwise screen the actual lasers.

Also, in a larger sense it does not matter too much if Amazon.com stops selling such lasers. They are readily available from many other sites on the Internet, some that specialize only in pointers and handheld lasers.

DID EYE PROTECTION HELP? UNKNOWN.

We have not seen news stories stating whether Cuccinelli testified if officers were using laser eye protection, and if that was effective. On July 10 2020 the Federal Protective Service (a division of the Department of Homeland Security) issued a sole-source contract for 1,000 pairs of Stingerhawk FT-2 Laser Protective Eyewear from Revision Military. It is not known if the glasses were delivered in time to be useful to the officers.

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.

Hong Kong: Man acquitted on charge of posessing laser pointer weapon during protests

A 39-year-old man was acquitted on July 24 2020 of having weapons including a baton and a laser pointer in the trunk of his car during September 2019 unrest in Hong Kong.

Ng Kai-nam testified he picked up four hitchhikers going to a demonstration. He told them to leave their bags in the car, and that he did not realize there were items defined as weapons in the bags.

The acting principal magistrate ruled that Ng knew the protesters had prohibited weapons, but found him not guilty since prosecutors were unable to prove if he knew the nature of the weapons.

From the South China Morning Post

Hong Kong: 100 hours community service for shining lasers at police

A 37-year-old bank manager was sentenced July 23 2020 to 100 hours of community service for aiming laser beams at vehicles and officers at a Hong Kong police station on January 1 2020. The incident did not appear to be connected to protests against police which occurred in Hong Kong during 2019.

Kwok Fu-wah was said to have aimed the lasers "out of impulse". The incident interfered with police duties but there were no injuries reported.

He was originally charged with possessing offensive weapons in a public place which is punishable by imprisonment. However, prosecutors allowed him to plead guilty to "a diminished charge of similar nature" resulting in the lesser sentence of community service. The principal magistrate noted Kwok had a good background and was sorry for his actions.

His two laser pointers were examined by police, who said the "two devices could cause ocular damage if the eyes were directly exposed to the laser beam within 60 meters [200 feet]."

From the South China Morning Post


COMMENTARY FROM LASERPOINTERSAFETY.COM

The 60 meter "ocular damage" distance probably refers to the laser's Nominal Ocular Hazard Distance. For a handheld laser with a typical beam of 1 milliradian beam spread, this corresponds to a laser of roughly 70 milliwatts. (The laser color would not be a factor in injury, only the power and divergence.)

In many countries the legal limit for a laser pointer is 1 mW; in the U.S. pointers of up to 5 mW are allowed to be sold.

A NOHD of 60 meters does not mean that injury will occur at that distance. As explained elsewhere, there is a safety or reduction factor built into the NOHD. At around 20 meters (66 feet), a 70 mW 1 mrad beam with a nominal 1/4 second exposure could cause the smallest detectable change in the retina about half the time, under laboratory conditions. Beyond 20 meters the chance of injury becomes even less until at the 60 meter NOHD it is considered an allowable exposure.

A one-quarter second exposure is used in the laser safety field for cases of accidental or unwanted beams. A person will blink, move or otherwise avoid eye exposure the laser light within that time.

The distance from Kwok to the police officers was not stated in the article.

US: Los Angeles officer has eye injury from laser

The following is from a news release dated July 19 2020, issued by the Los Angeles Police Department:


Suspect Arrested After Pointing Laser Pointer At Officer

On July 16th, 2020, around 8:40 a.m., a LAPD police officer in full uniform was in the area of 2nd St. and San Pedro when he felt a burning sensation in his eye. The officer believed the burning sensation may have been caused by a laser pointer. He was able to locate the suspect, 45-year-old Douglas Meyer, on a balcony in a nearby building. Additional officers went to the building and took Meyer into custody. Meyer was booked for Assault with a Deadly Weapon on a Police Officer, booking #5973501.

The officer began to experience nausea, vomiting, an intense headache, and blurred vision. He has received initial medical treatment, but will require follow up treatment with a specialist due to the seriousness of the sustained injury and symptoms.



Hong Kong: Conviction upheld based on laser pointer being an offensive weapon

On May 20 2020, a Hong Kong judge upheld the conviction of a 16-year-old boy for possessing a laser pointer during September 2019 protests. Under Hong Kong law, laser pointers can be classified as offensive weapons.

In November 2019 the unnamed teenager was the first protester to be found guilty of carrying a laser pointer as an offensive weapon. He was sentenced to a rehabilitation center for three months.

During his May 2020 appeal, defense counsel said the laser pointer could have been used peacefully to point at buildings and draw attention. Counsel further said there was no evidence the teen had used the pointer, and that he had been cooperative with police.

However, the appeals judge agreed with prosecutors at the November 2019 trial. They said the teen was wearing protest gear including a helmet and he must have intended to use it to inflict harm or discomfort upon others. The judge also noted the teen did not present evidence or testify to contradict the prosecutors' claims.

The judge also said that using laser pointers on buildings for peaceful protest was "a fanciful notion".

A government expert testified that the laser device could cause harm if it were pointed at the human eye within a distance of 36 meters (118 feet).

From the South China Morning Post


COMMENTARY FROM LASERPOINTERSAFETY.COM

The 36 meter "ocular damage" distance probably refers to the laser's Nominal Ocular Hazard Distance. For a handheld laser with a typical beam of 1 milliradian beam spread, this corresponds to a laser of roughly 25 milliwatts. (The laser color would not be a factor in injury, only the power and divergence.)

In many countries the legal limit for a laser pointer is 1 mW; in the U.S. pointers of up to 5 mW are allowed to be sold.

A NOHD of 36 meters does not mean that injury will occur at that distance. As explained elsewhere, there is a safety or reduction factor built into the NOHD. At around 12 meters (39 feet), a 25 mW 1 mrad beam with a nominal 1/4 second exposure could cause the smallest detectable change in the retina about half the time, under laboratory conditions. Beyond 12 meters the chance of injury becomes even less until at the 36 meter NOHD it is considered an allowable exposure.

A one-quarter second exposure is used in the laser safety field for cases of accidental or unwanted beams. A person will blink, move or otherwise avoid eye exposure the laser light within that time.

US: Man uses laser to cause other drivers to get out of his way; is arrested

A man driving on Highway 101 near Sausalito, California on March 10 2020 used a "high-power" green laser to aim at other vehicles so he could pass them.

The man lased a California Highway Patrol car, lighting up the interior and temporarily blinding both officers in the car. One was able to provide a description of the laser-targeting vehicle to a CHP unit further ahead. The car was stopped and the driver was questioned. CHP said "He was in fact the person responsible for the laser strike and [was placed] under arrest. A search of the vehicle located a high-power green laser pen which had been used.

From KPIX CBS

Ireland: €80,000 award to man injured by laser pen in school

Twenty-four year-old Dillon Breen of Dublin was awarded €80,000 (USD $90,400) on March 6 2020, for losing 10 percent of his right eye's vision in a laser pen incident that took place when Breen was approximately 16. The award was against Syncron Limited of Ballycoolin, Dublin, the company that sold the €10 laser pen on the internet.

It was sold to a classmate of Breen who brought it to St Kevin's College on May 25 2012. Another classmate accidentally aimed the laser's green beam at Breen while a teacher was out of the classroom. Breen immediately felt a "burning sensation." At hospital he was told his retina was burned. Breen has a permanent spot in the center of his right eye, removing about 10 percent of his vision and requiring him to wear glasses.

Breen sued the school, St Kevin's and the laser pen distributor, Syncron.

Justice Michael Hanna found that the school had no responsibility. He said the teacher was entitled to be out of the classroom on necessary business, and if the school was aware of the laser it would have taken action.

Breen's suit said the laser pen was more powerful than allowed by EU directives and thus was dangerous. The judge agreed, noting it should not have been offered for sale, and that Syncron was entirely responsible for Breen's injury. Syncron did not appear in court and did not defend itself.

It is not known if Breen will be able to collect the judgement from Syncron as they are no longer trading.

From Herald.ie and the Irish Times (March 4 2020 article about the lawsuit, March 5 2020 article about the judge's decision and award)

Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com: This is the first case we are aware of where a civil suit has been brought against a laser pointer distributor or manufacturer for an eye injury. There have been cases where government agencies have taken administrative or criminal action against illegal imports.

Canada: Driver films laser coming from oncoming car

A driver in Regina, Saskatchewan provided video of a laser being aimed at him from an oncoming car in an incident that occurred October 17 2019.

Ben Leech told the Regina Leader Post that the light "was super bright, but it only was pointing at my face for around a second, so it didn’t do too much damage or anything. It was just kind of a shock to see it." The exposure left white spot afterimages for a few seconds. There was no permanent damage.





Four frames in quick succession from a dashcam video showing the laser beam on the pavement, hood, windshield, and in the air. The video is at YouTube.


Leech could not identify the car so he did not report it to the Regina Police Service. An RPS spokesperson said they were not previously aware of automobile drivers being targeted by lasers, although it has happened to aircraft in the area.

From the Regina Leader Post, February 15 2020

US: Pointing gunsight laser at man a factor in fatal "stand your ground" shooting

On March 20, 2016, an angry, frightened man aimed a laser aiming device on a handgun at an unarmed man who had knocked on the wrong door. When the laser beam went on the unarmed man's face, he became angry, sprayed water on the gunman, made threats and charged. The gunman fired, killing the unarmed man.

Both men lived in a Fort Myers (Florida) apartment complex, in units identically numbered "102". Ryan Modell, 32, had been heavily drinking on March 19 to celebrate a new job. At about 2:30 am on March 20, Modell — wearing only shorts— knocked on the door of 46-year-old Steve Taylor, in a different unit 102.

Taylor got his 10 mm Glock handgun and answered the door. He told Modell he had the wrong unit, but to Taylor, the intoxicated Modell didn't respond and appeared drugged. Taylor said he pointed the gun at Modell, warning him not to approach, but Modell charged.

Taylor closed the door, injuring Modell's toe. Taylor's wife called police. Taylor went outside and found Modell hosing off his bloody toe. Taylor aimed the gun at Modell and turned on the laser pointer aiming device. That is when Modell sprayed water, made threats and charged.

Mark O'Mara, a lawyer for Modell's father, said Modell had an understandable reaction for a person who thought he was about to be shot. He said "If you put a laser on my chest, there is one of two things I am going to do: duck and run, or kill you."

Taylor says he fired when Modell was within two feet; O'Mara says evidence indicates it was several feet back.

The 2016 case became controversial due to Florida's "stand your ground" law being used. In January 2020, O'Mara asked Florida's governor to appoint a special prosecutor to reinvestigate the shooting, and wants Taylor charged with second-degree murder.

From WEARTV.com

US: Teen aiming gunsight laser pointer at friend pulls trigger, kills him

A 15-year-old boy shot and killed a friend as they were playing video games on January 26 2020 in Pataskala, Ohio.

Noah Bigham aimed a 9mm handgun which had a built-in laser pointer sight at his lifelong friend Hunter Cooper's eyes, to distract him during a game. Bigham pulled the trigger, firing the gun and killing his 15-year-old Cooper.

He was arrested and was charged as a juvenile with reckless homicide, a third-degree felony if committed by an adult.

Bigham's attorney called the killing "unintentional": "“The home, unfortunately, had complete access to handguns. It is my understanding the juveniles were able to have about unfettered access to firearms. This is what happens when you have firearms accessible. It’s just awful."

A police detective declined to say whether it was an accident: “We definitely can’t acknowledge an accidental shooting. We’re treating it as any shooting would be, at this point. In any investigation like this, you can’t rule anything out.”

From the Columbus Dispatch

Lebanon: Protesters use laser pointers against police

The photo below shows protesters in Beirut on January 22 2020 using laser pointers against special forces police.



They have been protesting the Lebanese government's limit on cash withdrawals from banks and ATMs, with the country on the brink of economic collapse. Riots have broken out where banks and ATMs are attacked.

There was no additional information regarding laser use or misuse during the protests — just the photo.

From the Daily Mail