U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Freelance photojournalist sprayed with chemical irritant by armed individual during Olympia protest

Incident Details

January 6, 2021

An unidentified freelance photojournalist was reportedly threatened by an armed individual and sprayed with an irritant identified in court documents as bear spray 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, according to the Olympian. It was one of several demonstrations 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 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.”

According to the Olympian, the individual first approached the photojournalist as he was setting up his camera near the intersection, telling him that the media wasn’t welcome at the demonstration. When the photojournalist refused to leave, the man allegedly pulled out a canister of the chemical irritant to threaten him and ultimately sprayed him in the face.

The photojournalist, disoriented by the spray, received aid from an unknown passerby and left the area unable to continue working, according to the Olympian.

Soon after, the armed protester quickly came up on a second journalist, a videojournalist for TVW, yelling repeatedly for the journalist to “get the [expletive] out of here,” the Times reported. The TVW 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 same man allegedly threatened two other journalists as well. The Tracker has documented the 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]