Independent journalist Jake Johnson was shoved into a bush by a police officer clearing protesters from a street in Portland, Oregon, on Aug. 1, 2020, despite being clearly marked as press. A second Portland Police Bureau officer then slammed him onto a car hood and maced him at close range.
The Portland-based journalist was covering one of the many protests that broke 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.
After more than two months of nightly protests in Portland, tensions had begun to ease in the wake of the federal government’s agreement in late July to end its crackdown on protests, leaving enforcement to local police. The PPB, meanwhile, had recently agreed not to arrest or harm any journalists or legal observers in response to a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon. Johnson, a recent graduate of Portland State University who had worked for the school’s magazine and newspaper, is involved in the ACLU suit.
Around 11 p.m. on Aug. 1, Johnson was using his phone to film police clearing a residential street after a protest that began at the Penumbra Kelly Building on East Burnside Street dispersed southward. Johnson told the Tracker that there were about 100 protesters left at this point. In a video Johnson later tweeted, the officers can be heard warning protesters that it was an unlawful assembly and they should disperse.
About 40 seconds into the video, a line of officers can be seen advancing down the residential street, yelling, “Move!” and “Get out of the street!” An officer can be heard saying, “On the sidewalk, get on the sidewalk,” as the camera angle swings upward. That’s when an officer pushed Johnson into a bush, he told the Tracker. Johnson said he had moved between parked cars when the officer used a baton to shove him, and that he injured his pinky toe when he tried to catch his fall.
Johnson was still filming as he attempted to follow the officer, asking for his badge number. Reading the number on the back of the officer’s helmet, he can be heard yelling that it was “officer No. 6” that shoved him.
Then the camera goes askew again, as another officer shoves him into a car, Johnson told the Tracker. His knees hyperextended when he hit the bumper, he said. Johnson said that when he looked up, he was immediately maced. In the video, a police officer driving by in a riot van can be heard saying, “Smart move.”
Johnson said that his phone flew out of his hand when he got hit, but that it continued to record. In the audio, someone can be heard giving Johnson back his helmet, which is labelled “press” on five sides (front, left, right, back and top).
“Did they mace you too?” a person can be heard asking. “Yeah,” Johnson replied. People continue to assist him, including helping him rinse his eyes.
The recording then gets cut off, but at 11:22 p.m. Johnson tweeted the rest of the audio. About 35 seconds into the recording, a person says, “That was pretty distinctly them shoving and macing press. I mean, you’ve got the fucking helmet and everything.” Johnson and the bystander can then be heard finding his phone, which was still recording, on the ground.
Johnson told the Tracker the pain in his right leg from hitting the bumper made it difficult to cover subsequent protests. “It’s very uncomfortable to go to sleep at night,” he said.
Garrison Davis, who was with fellow Portland-based journalist Robert Evans at the time, captured Johnson getting shoved on camera from another angle. At 11:16 p.m., Davis tweeted about the incident, referencing Johnson’s Twitter handle: “It’s pretty dark, but if you look closely you can see the police assault and thrown journalist @FancyJenkins (white helmet) onto the hood of the car. He got badly maced.” In the video, Johnson can be seen following the officer that pushed him while another officer runs up from behind and slams him into the car.
Members of the Portland Press Corps who go by @45thabsurdist on Twitter were also present at the incident. “Lost the march helping someone who was maced and shoved between two cars,” they tweeted at 10:34 p.m.
At 11 p.m., @45thabsurdist tweeted at Multnomah County district attorney Mike Schmidt: “For the record, @FancyJenkins is the reporter who just got maced while clearly marked, standing aside, filming.”
A PPB statement about the Aug. 1 protests said that “people with ‘press’ written on their outer garments repeatedly threw objects at officers.”
Sergeant Kevin Allen of the PPB told the Tracker that he didn’t have information about the incident involving Johnson, but said the PPB “requires that members use only the objectively reasonable force necessary to perform their duties and overcome the threat or resistance of the subject under the totality of the circumstances.”
Allen didn’t respond to a request to share records on people identifying as members of the press throwing objects.
Davis and Evans said they didn’t see any evidence of people marked “press” throwing things. “I saw no press throwing bottles,” Evans, a reporter for investigative news site Bellingcat and host of a podcast for iHeartMedia, told the Tracker.