Tuan St. Patrick, a national correspondent for Ruptly, said he was sprayed with a chemical irritant by federal agents while he was covering protests in Portland, Oregon, in the early morning hours of July 26, 2020.
St. Patrick was one of many covering the protests that broke out in Portland in response to police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following the May 25 death of George Floyd. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.
The Portland protests, held nightly since late May, had grown more intense as the presence of federal law enforcement increased in early July. A temporary restraining order on July 2 that barred the Portland police from harming or impeding journalists was expanded to include federal agents on July 23.
One of the main demonstrations taking place the night of July 25 — and stretching into the next morning — was held outside the Mark O. Hetfield federal courthouse, where federal law enforcement officers were stationed.
St. Patrick was livestreaming near the courthouse as federal agents tried to disperse people after an unlawful assembly was declared just before 11:30 p.m. Sometime between midnight and 1 a.m., a federal agent pepper sprayed him in his eyes while he was crossing a street, St. Patrick told the Tracker.
At the time, St. Patrick had NYPD-issued press credentials around his neck and was wearing a bulletproof vest, mask and goggles. He also had his recording equipment strapped on, as seen in a photo he posted on Instagram.
Before he was sprayed with the irritant, St. Patrick saw officers targeting and pointing people out, he said. “I definitely felt targeted, there was no question that I was press when the officer came up to me point blank and sprayed me in the eyes,” he told the Tracker.
Despite wearing goggles, St. Patrick said he was completely blinded. A nearby ACLU legal observer helped get him clean. Soon after, he rejoined the group of media. “If we stop [reporting], that does more damage,” said St. Patrick
A little after 1 a.m. Portland police declared a riot after a section of the fence surrounding the federal courthouse was torn down.
The Department of Homeland Security, which coordinated the federal presence in Portland, didn’t respond to a request for comment. The PPB has said it wouldn't comment on incidents involving journalists covering the protests, citing continuing litigation in the ACLU case.