U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Independent filmmaker sprayed with chemical agent in Kenosha

Incident Details

Date of Incident
September 1, 2020
Kenosha, Wisconsin


Was the journalist targeted?
September 1, 2020

On Sept. 1, 2020, a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, sprayed independent filmmaker Ashley Dorelus with a chemical agent after she knocked away his hand, according to Dorelus and video of the encounter. Dorelus, who said she has been traveling the country to make a film about the Black Lives Matter movement, said that she batted away the officer’s hand because he had inappropriately touched her.

Dorelus told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker she was reporting in a Kenosha park that had become a gathering place for protesters after the Aug. 23 shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white police officer. She said that before the incident with the policeman, she was trying to interview a man who described himself as a member of the Proud Boys, a far-right group, and a woman accompanying him. Dorelus said that as she sought to ask the man questions about the Proud Boys, a crowd of protesters followed them, chanting “Proud Boys go home.”

One demonstrator also antagonized Dorelus, apparently because she was trying to interview the self-described Proud Boy. “You’re media, you’re media,” the demonstrator shouts at her in a video that Dorelus live streamed on Instagram. A few minutes later, the video shows several police officers arriving to separate the man and the woman from the crowd. As Dorelus, together with other members of the press, walks along close to law enforcement escorting the self-described right-wing activists, one of the officers shoves her away “Hey that was my breast, don’t touch me,” she can be heard screaming, and then again: “don’t touch me,” right before the officer sprays her.

The incident was also caught on camera by New York Times reporter Nicholas Bogel-Burroughswho tweeted the video and it was later reported in The New York Times. Bogel-Burroughs’ footage shows the officer, who is white, shoving away Dorelus, who is Black, and then spraying her after she swatted his hand. Dorelus said that she swiped at the officer’s hand because he had touched her inappropriately. “I’m a woman, you don’t think I know when a man touches my breast, come on,” she told the Tracker. Dorelus also said that she was wearing press credentials when she was sprayed. “I was trying to explain to the police, I was interviewing these people,” she said. “He could have just told me to step back, whereas his initial reaction was to mace me.” Dorelus said that her eyes were burning badly for two days and her head was also exposed to the spray.

Dorelus said she did not file a complaint against the officer. The Kenosha Police Department has not responded to Tracker requests for comment.

The same day Dorelus was sprayed and allegedly touched inappropriately, President Donald Trump visited Kenosha, where he offered support to law enforcement but did not speak about Jacob Blake or meet with his family members.

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