Freelance journalist arrested while covering Portland protests, despite injunction against police

July 17, 2020

Freelance journalist Andrew Jankowski was arrested by police officers while covering protests in Portland, Oregon, on July 17, 2020, a day after a judge issued a preliminary injunction to block the Portland Police Bureau from arresting or targeting journalists.

Jankowski was 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. For more than six weeks, nightly protests had taken hold in downtown Portland, escalating tensions and violence between protesters, Portland police and federal officers. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.

In the early morning hours of July 17, Jankowski was covering a protest at Southeast 47th Avenue and East Burnside Street, outside of the Penumbra Kelly Building, which houses the PPB’s crime-prevention and neighborhood-involvement units as well as space for the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. Jankowski told the Tracker he recalled two dispersal orders from Portland police officers ordering protesters to move west.

“I guess they [officers] decided that we weren’t moving fast enough and did what’s come to be known as a bull rush,” Jankowski. “Out of nowhere, they run at people and start shoving.”

As protesters and officers scattered in different directions, Jankowski felt someone push him. He believed it was an officer.

“I yelled ‘Media!’ while I ran, and even screamed the word as they twisted my wrist behind my back to take away my phone,” Jankowski wrote in an article for the Portland Mercury. “People from across the street saw I was wearing a press pass. I tried making it easier for the officer to zip tie me, and was told to stop resisting.”

He said he had thought ahead to wear a protective vest, which absorbed most of the impact, but he still sustained cuts and scrapes on his hands. Officers also grabbed his backpack, which was later destroyed.

A video documented and tweeted by Nicholas Lee, an independent photographer and videographer, shows Jankowski being held by officers at around 12:50 a.m. A few seconds into the video, officers can be seen shining a bright light into Lee’s lens, hampering him from capturing the footage.

As Lee continues to film, he shouts, “Are you press?” Jankowski responds with a “Yes” and his name. A bystander can be heard asking, “Have they told you why they are arresting you?” to which Jankowski replies “No.”

Jankowski said he believed the officers answered the question about his charges only because protesters were demanding it. But at that moment, he was still in shock and couldn’t fully understand what the officers were saying. The PPB announced later that morning that Jankowski was booked for disorderly conduct and interfering with a peace officer.

“I don’t know if I was targeted, but once they knew who I was, they still weren’t letting me go,” Jankowski said, noting that he had a large press pass taped to his chest. In a photograph Jankowski shared with the Portland Mercury, he can be seen with a sign taped on his chest that had “freelance journalist” written across the top along with logos of the Portland Mercury and other news outlets.

The officers brought Jankowski to the Penumbra Kelly building, where they removed the press pass from his chest, cutting through the line that read “Freelance journalist,” he said. He was finally processed at 3:44 a.m. at the Multnomah County Justice Center and released about six hours later, with the two charges pending.

“Through their questions, I came to realize that the officers questioning me didn’t understand, or didn’t want to understand, how freelance journalism works,” he wrote. “I felt they were trying to provoke, intimidate, and belittle me when they asked why an arts writer was reporting on protests.”

PPB spokesman Derek Carmon declined to comment on Jankowski’s arrest, citing continuing litigation.

When Jankowski went to court In September, he learned that the district attorney had declined to prosecute him, but that the case could still be reopened in the future. He also received a notice from the PPB regarding a complaint that he had allegedly filed. He said that while he hasn’t filed a dispute, he is currently working with a lawyer to potentially file a civil case.

Since the incident, Jankowski has gone to physical therapy for his wrist and wore a brace for several months, he said. In the Portland Mercury, he wrote about experiencing “bizarre trauma responses,” claustrophobia and paranoia.

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

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