Independent journalist Brian Conley said law enforcement officers targeted him with crowd-control munitions while he was covering protests in Portland, Oregon, in the early morning hours of July 25, 2020.
The protests were among many demonstrations that broke out in response to police violence and in support of Black Lives Matter following the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.
Law enforcement officers in Portland had targeted journalists since the outbreak of the demonstrations, according to a class-action lawsuit filed in June by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon. The case resulted in a temporary restraining order on July 2 barring the Portland police from harming or impeding journalists, which was expanded to include federal agents later that month.
The Department of Homeland Security hasn’t responded to requests for comment on any incidents involving its officers. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which operates under the DHS, referred the Tracker to the DHS for comment.
At about 2:25 a.m., Conley was filming as federal agents attempted to clear protesters from the intersection of Southwest Third Avenue and Southwest Salmon Street, in front of the courthouse. In a video later posted on Twitter by Conley, federal agents can be seen using tear gas to disperse the crowd and the sounds of other crowd-control munitions being fired can be heard. Conley stood close to federal agents as he filmed.
At one point, a tear gas canister can be seen flying through the air directly at Conley from the left-hand side of his shot.
“That’s like the second tear gas I’ve been hit with,” he says in the video. “They threw that shit right at me.”
As a tear gas canister smoked on the ground in front of Conley and two other journalists who were wearing gas masks, federal agents can be heard firing more crowd-control rounds.
Conley told the Tracker he believed federal agents deployed the tear gas in his direction, even though he was standing next to federal agents. In the video, it isn’t clear whether the canister was deployed by federal agents. Conley said he was wearing a photographer’s vest and a helmet, both of which had press markings on them.
In a statement that is part of an American Civil Liberties Union suit Conley joined, he said agents began using tear gas for “no discernible reason” and that they gave no warnings or orders to disperse.
When reached for comment in the fall of 2020, the PPB told the Tracker it wouldn’t comment on specific incidents, citing continuing litigation in the ACLU case. Then in early 2021, PPB spokesman Derek Carmon said the department was committed to upholding civil rights for all citizens, including by requiring officers to report any use of force for review.