Independent journalist receives $50,000 to settle lawsuit stemming from arrest, assaults at protests in 2020
According to a settlement notice filed on July 29, 2022, independent journalists Cory Elia and Lesley McLam were collectively paid $90,000 to settle their joint lawsuit against the City of Portland, the state and multiple law enforcement officers.
The pair reached a settlement with the City of Portland on April 28, wherein the city agreed to pay $55,000. The settlement agreement submitted in July revealed that Multnomah County and the State of Oregon agreed to pay $15,000 and $20,000, respectively, toward the total settlement.
According to the filing, Elia was issued $50,000 total, and McLam $40,000.
City of Portland pays two journalists $55,000 to settle lawsuit stemming from arrests, assaults at protests in 2020
Independent journalists Cory Elia and Lesley McLam reached a settlement agreement with the City of Portland during a videoconference on April 26, 2022, according to court records reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
Both Elia and McLam were covering protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for KBOO Community Radio and Village Portland in the summer of 2020. The journalists were assaulted on multiple occasions, and the pair were arrested on June 30.
Elia and McLam filed a civil lawsuit against the city, the state and multiple law enforcement officers on July 8, citing multiple press freedom violations against the journalists. The Oregonian reported that the city agreed to pay $55,000 to settle the lawsuit after an investigation of their claims found that the city risked being found liable if the case went to trial.
According to court records, District Court Judge Michael Simon dismissed the case on April 28, 2022, granting the parties 60 days to comply with the agreement.
Cory Elia, an editor at Village Portland and host of a KBOO podcast, was repeatedly shoved by police while covering protests in Portland, Oregon, on May 31, 2020, according to his lawsuit against the city and Mayor Ted Wheeler, among others.
Elia was covering one of the many protests that broke out across the U.S. in response to police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
In Portland, protests over the death of Floyd began on May 29, prompting Wheeler to declare an 8 p.m. curfew that lasted three days.
On the night of May 31, protesters gathered near the Multnomah County Justice Center and marched toward Pioneer Courthouse despite the curfew, according to the Oregonian. Shortly after the 8 p.m. curfew took effect, the Portland police declared the protest an unlawful assembly and used tear gas and other crowd-control munitions to disperse the crowd.
Elia and his colleague Lesley McLam filed a civil lawsuit against the city, the state, and multiple law enforcement officers on July 8, citing multiple press freedom violations against the journalists. Elia declined to comment, citing an upcoming deposition.
According to the complaint, Elia and a journalist with weekly alternative newspaper Street Roots were reporting together downtown and were attempting to leave the area when a demonstrator ran past them. Immediately after, a flash-bang grenade exploded within feet of where the pair of journalists were standing and, while temporarily blinded and disoriented, five officers surrounded them.
“[The officers] threatened to arrest them if they did not move ‘NOW!’” the complaint said. “They held out their press passes and yelled ‘PRESS! PRESS!’ and reminded the police officers that press were exempt from the curfew order.”
According to the complaint, the officers deliberately pushed both journalists after they identified themselves, and caused Elia to stumble into his bike, injuring his ankle.
After the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon filed a class-action lawsuit at the end of June, the city agreed to a preliminary injunction to not to arrest or harm any journalists or legal observers of the protests or impede their work.
The Portland Police Bureau has said it wouldn't comment on incidents involving journalists covering the protests, citing ongoing litigation.