U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Broadcast journalist sprayed with chemical irritant by armed individual during 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

An unidentified videojournalist for Washington state public broadcaster TVW was threatened and sprayed with a chemical irritant by an armed individual while covering a demonstration 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, 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.

KOMO News reported that around noon, an individual carrying an assault-type rifle sprayed two members of the media with what court documents identified as bear spray near the intersection of 11th Avenue and Capitol Way South. The documents reportedly said the spray “caused bodily harm and incapacitated both victims for hours.”

The Seattle Times, citing charging documents, reported that the man had first approached a freelance photojournalist, telling him to leave the area and that the media wasn’t welcome at the demonstration. When the journalist refused, “the man sprayed his face and camera lens with bear spray, disorienting and blinding the photographer,” according to the Times.

Soon after, the armed man quickly came up on the TVW videojournalist, yelling repeatedly for the journalist to “get the [expletive] out of here,” the Times reported. The videojournalist crossed the street, only to once again be approached by the man, this time from behind. When the journalist turned, the man sprayed him in the face. The journalist then returned to his office to seek aid from his co-workers and was reportedly incapacitated for over two hours, the Olympian reported.

The same individual allegedly threatened two other journalists as well. The Tracker documented the multiple assaults in Olympia here.

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].