City of Portland, Oregon, to pay independent journalist $50,000 to settle lawsuit
The City of Portland, Oregon, agreed on May 17, 2023, to pay $50,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by freelance journalist Donovan Farley after he said he was beaten and sprayed with a chemical agent by police while covering Black Lives Matter protests in June 2020.
According to his lawsuit, Farley — whose work has been published by Vice, Rolling Stone and Willamette Week, among others — was struck multiple times with a wooden baton and pepper-sprayed while covering protests during the late hours of June 6, 2020. Farley was wearing a Vice press badge during the incident.
The journalist filed a lawsuit against the city and five police officers exactly two years later, alleging violations of his First and Fourth Amendment rights, as well as assault, battery and negligence.
According to filings reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the parties reached a settlement agreement on May 2, 2023. The Portland City Council unanimously authorized a payment of $50,000 to settle the suit on May 17, noting that a risk management investigation found that the city might be found liable if the case went to trial. The case was formally dismissed on May 18.
Independent journalist Donovan Farley was struck with a wooden truncheon and pepper sprayed while covering protests in Portland, Oregon, during the late hours of June 6, 2020, according to a class-action lawsuit filed by ACLU of Oregon.
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.
In Portland, nightly protests over the death of Floyd began on May 29, prompting Mayor Ted Wheeler to declare an 8 p.m. curfew that lasted three days. Even after the curfew was lifted, journalists continued to be targeted by police, according to the ACLU suit. The suit led to an agreement by the Portland Police Bureau in July not to arrest or harm any journalists or legal observers of the protests. Wheeler later banned the police from using tear gas as a form of crowd control on Sept. 10.
Just before midnight on June 6, Farley began filming police officers arresting a man in Chapman Square downtown, as one officer put his knee on the man’s neck. Farley “had identified himself as press and was filming several police officers kneeling on a protester’s neck, George Floyd-style,” according to the ACLU filing.
Then, in an attack that was captured on a KATU newsfeed and posted on Twitter by Theo Van Alst, an associate professor at Portland State University, one of the officers pushes Farley back with his hand before hitting him with a truncheon. The officer can then be seen macing Farley as he turns to walk away, then hitting him and macing him again.
“I was chased and assaulted because I was a journalist who caught law enforcement behaving in the exact illegal fashion that started this nationwide uproar,” Farley said in a statement posted on Twitter. While acknowledging that he was vocal in telling the officers to remove their knee from the man’s neck, Farley said he was staying out of the way of the arrest.
The first hit with the truncheon injured his lower thigh, Farley said, and the officer also hit him between the shoulders as he was retreating. The shock of that blow is what caused him to turn around, he said, which is when the officer maced him again at close range.
“The burst was so intense that for the first second I thought he had taken out the big canister and punched me with it,” said Farley in the statement, adding that he was incapacitated for the remainder of the night.
Farley wasn’t available for further comment.
The ACLU filed the complaint on June 28 on behalf of multiple journalists.
The PPB has said it wouldn't comment on incidents involving journalists covering the protests, citing continuing litigation in the ACLU case.
Editor's note: This piece has been updated to reflect that Donovan Farley is not among the plaintiffs in the ACLU of Oregon's class-action lawsuit.