U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Independent livestreamer, Heather DeMian, pepper sprayed by St. Louis police

Incident Details

Date of Incident
September 29, 2017
St. Louis, Missouri
Case number
Case Status
Type of case


Was the journalist targeted?
heather demian
May 28, 2021 - Update

Officer acquitted on felony assault charges for pepper-spraying protesters

On May 28, 2021, a Missouri Circuit Court Judge found a former St. Louis police officer not guilty of assaulting three people, including independent journalist Heather DeMian, during protests in 2017.

William Olsten faced three felony assault charges for pepper-spraying three individuals during one of several protests following the acquittal of former police officer Jason Stockley on a murder charge. Judge Thom Clark II ruled that Olsten’s use of pepper spray was justified, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“While regrettable, unfortunate and concerning that the complaining witnesses experienced the unpleasant effects of the chemicals disbursed (sic) from Defendant’s mace canister,” Clark wrote. “Defendant’s actions were justified under the circumstances.”

The Post-Dispatch reported that during Olsten’s trial, Assistant Circuit Attorney Jeff Estes said that Olsten had no reason to spray the individuals, and that he had only done so in retaliation.

“There was no justification whatsoever for what he did,” Estes said. “The use of force without justification is, by its very definition, an assault.”

DeMian’s lawsuit against Olsten, Police Chief John Hayden and the City of St. Louis is ongoing, and a tentative trial date has been set for September 2022.

July 17, 2019 - Update

St. Louis officer charged with assault for 2017 pepper-spraying of livestreamer Heather DeMian, protesters

Former St. Louis, Missouri, police officer William Olsten has been charged this month with three felony counts of third-degree assault for the 2017 pepper-spraying of protest attendees, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Livestreamer Heather DeMian, who was filming one of the protests that followed the acquittal of former Officer Jason Stockley on a murder charge, was among those sprayed and named in the prosecutors’ charges.

"We're grateful that the circuit attorney's office has decided to hold at least one police officer accountable for the unconstitutional and unlawful acts of the St. Louis police after the Stockley verdict,” Javad Khazaeli, one of the protesters' lawyers, told the Post-Dispatch.

DeMian is also part of an ongoing 2018 federal civil lawsuit against Olsten, current Police Chief John Hayden and the city of St. Louis.

September 29, 2017

Heather DeMian, an independent livestreamer and photographer, was pepper sprayed by St. Louis police while filming protests in St. Louis on Sept. 29, 2017, according to her tweets and livestream video of the incident.

In an interview with St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Nassim Benchaabane after the protest, DeMian was livestreaming the demonstration to Periscope when she was informed by protesters that the St. Louis police tased a protester. She moved closer, trying to film the arrest of the protester, when police allegedly sprayed her with a chemical agent from the side.

DeMian regularly documents protests by livestreaming them on Periscope and uploading them to her Youtube channel, "Heather DeMian," and her Twitter account, @MissJupiter1957.

In the Periscope video, DeMian can be seen asking the officers multiple times why she was sprayed and why they failed to give a dispersal order. In the video, one officer points at DeMian and says repeatedly, “time to go."

“I should have to be a threat before someone fucking maces me,” she says later on the livestream.

DeMian later tweeted that the pepper spray had a severe effect on her because she has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a genetic connective tissue disorder.

"B/c of my #EDS, my physical reaction to pepperspray is different. It takes a few minutes to feel it where I have mucus membranes in my face," she tweeted. "Didn't really feel it much on my arms & medics washed where there was visible orange liquid, but not whole arm, so missed where fine spray. So while I didn't feel an initial reaction on my arms much, where it sat on the skin for longer, it damaged the skin. #EDS"

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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