U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

AP photojournalist threatened with assault while covering Olympia protest

Incident Details

Date of Incident
January 6, 2021
Olympia, Washington


Was the journalist targeted?
March 15, 2021 - Update

Man sentenced for assault, harassment of journalists during Jan. 6 protests at Washington state capitol

A man charged with spraying two journalists with a chemical irritant and threatening others during a January protest at the Capitol in Olympia, Washington, pleaded guilty to multiple charges on March 15, 2021.

The protest was one of several held by supporters of President Donald Trump around the country on Jan. 6, with the largest being the riot at the U.S. Capitol. In Olympia, the demonstration began at the Capitol before migrating to the Governor’s Mansion, growing increasingly aggressive as the afternoon wore on.

According to court records, the man, identified as Damon Huseman, was armed with an assault rifle, handgun and knife. He told a freelance photojournalist and a TVW videojournalist that the media wasn’t welcome at the demonstration and sprayed them with bear spray after they refused to leave. He also later threatened Olympian reporter Sara Gentzler and Associated Press photojournalist Ted S. Warren, boasting that he had assaulted other journalists earlier that day. Read more about each of the assaults here.

Gentzler told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he threatened to kill them. “As he was sort of going away from us he said, ‘We’re going to shoot you fucking dead in the next year,’” she said.

Huseman was arrested on Jan. 19, and pleaded guilty to three counts of third-degree assault, two counts of harassment and one count of criminal trespass on March 15. Following his plea, Huseman was sentenced to six months in prison on each assault charge and 90 days for each of the remaining charges, all to be served concurrently.

The Olympian reported that while Huseman pleaded guilty, he said in a written statement that he had acted in self defense and only accepted a plea deal to avoid a trial.

January 6, 2021

Ted S. Warren, a photojournalist for The Associated Press, was threatened by an armed individual while covering a demonstration at the Capitol in Olympia, Washington, on Jan. 6, 2021.

The protest that day, which started at the Capitol, migrated to the Governor’s Mansion and grew increasingly aggressive as the afternoon wore on, the Olympian reported. The demonstration was one of several held by supporters of President Donald Trump around the country, organized as the U.S. Congress was set to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.

During the course of covering the events in Olympia, Warren had met up with Olympian reporter Sara Gentzler. At one point, the two were approached by a man, Gentzler said to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, armed with multiple firearms and a knife. He threatened the journalists, telling them that they had five minutes to leave the area and that he had pepper-sprayed other members of the media earlier in the day. The Tracker documented the multiple assaults in Olympia here.

Gentzler said that she'd already been threatened by the man once that day, an incident the Tracker has documented here. As the man walked away after this encounter, Gentzler remembers him saying, “We’re going to shoot you fucking dead in the next year.”

Gentzler said she and Warren sought out another group of press to have safety in numbers and to warn them about the man.

Warren told Poynter he worries that such threats may intimidate journalists out of interacting with demonstrators moving forward, and that in the future he would be more aware of the possibility of direct hostility.

“I’m still going to try and talk to people when I’m out at these things because I think it gives me insight as to why they’re there,” Warren said, “and it also helps me to make a positive case for journalists that we’re there to tell their story and to represent visually what is happening.”

The Washington State Patrol said in a press release on Jan. 19 that Damon Huseman, a 26-year-old resident of Seattle, had been taken into police custody without incident and was being booked at the Thurston County Jail on charges of second-degree assault, felony harassment and criminal trespass in connection with the events of Jan. 6.

According to the Seattle Times, Huseman had a preliminary court appearance on Jan. 20 and was ordered to remain in custody in lieu of $50,000 bail. The judge also ordered Huseman to have no contact with the journalists he’s accused of targeting or the Capitol campus.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting multiple incidents involving journalists, including assaults, arrests and equipment damage, from Jan. 6. All of our election-related coverage can be found here.

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