Independent journalist hit with munitions fired by police while covering Portland protest

June 30, 2020

Independent journalist Eric Greatwood was hit in the groin by a crowd-control projectile while covering a protest in Portland, Oregon, on June 30, 2020.

The Portland-based journalist was documenting one of the many protests that have broken 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. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.

In Portland, nightly protests over Floyd’s death began on May 29, prompting Mayor Ted Wheeler to declare a curfew that lasted three days. Even after the nightly curfew was lifted, journalists continued to be targeted by police, according to a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon. The suit resulted in a temporary restraining order and an agreement by the city in July not to arrest, harm or impede any journalists or legal observers.

The June 30 demonstration took place the day before a planned vote to extend the city’s contract with the police union. Protesters marched over a mile from Peninsula Park to the Portland Police Association (PPA) headquarters in North Portland.

Soon after protestors arrived at PPA offices around 9 p.m., the police declared an “unlawful assembly” and ordered them to disperse. Police used batons and less-lethal munitions to move protesters east, according to testimony by Greatwood and other plaintiffs in a motion filed by Don’t Shoot Portland, a police accountability group, to hold the city in contempt over a federal court ruling a few days earlier that restricted law enforcement’s use of less-lethal weapons in the Portland protests.

Greatwood, a U.S. Air Force veteran, had been filming protests in Portland almost daily since June 5 with a video camera mounted on a 20-foot pole. That night, a police officer called Greatwood by name, a detail he described as hair-raising.

Around 10:15 p.m., Greatwood was hit with a munition from an FN303 launcher while he was bending down to examine an unexploded smoke canister, according to court documents. The launchers are considered less-lethal, but have proven to be fatal in the past.

Portland Police Bureau (PPB) Officer Brent Taylor, who fired the round, testified that he was concerned Greatwood would throw the canister back at the police line, but that he didn’t mean to aim at Gretwood’s groin.

But Greatwood, who had been wearing a helmet marked “press,” testified that he felt targeted, saying, “I believe that the police personally targeted me and intentionally aimed to shoot me in the groin.”

While U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez ruled on Nov. 27 that several of the shooting incidents by police on June 30 violated the temporary restraining order restricting the use of less-lethal munitions, the judge found that the use of force against Greatwood was appropriate because he posed a threat when he examined the grenade.

The ruling came as a surprise to Greatwood, “I just want justice to be served,” he told the Tracker. “It’s hard for me to feel like any of it is fair, I feel like I was the most neutral, most labeled person there.”

Greatwood, who was livestreaming when he was hit, tried to hide his groaning from people who were tuned into his feed. “It was easily the most excruciating injury I’ve had happen to me,” he told the Tracker. Greatwood ended up going to the emergency room, where he was given basic first aid. The injury took more than a month to heal, he said.

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

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