U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Independent livestreamer, Heather De Mian, 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 de mian

Heather De Mian, an independent livestreamer, was pepper-sprayed by St. Louis police while filming a protest.

November 16, 2023 - Update

State appeals court dismisses reporter’s First Amendment claims

Independent livestreamer and photographer Heather De Mian’s First Amendment claims against a police officer who pepper-sprayed her during a 2017 protest in St. Louis, Missouri, were dismissed by an appeals court on Nov. 16, 2023.

De Mian was filming a protest in St. Louis on Sept. 29, 2017, one of several following the acquittal of a white police officer in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith, a Black man. She was pepper-sprayed by police during the protest and later tweeted that she suffered particularly severe damage from the spray because she has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a genetic connective tissue disorder.

De Mian filed a federal lawsuit in 2018 against former St. Louis Police Officer William Olsten, one of the police officers who pepper-sprayed her, as well as former Police Chief John Hayden and the City of St. Louis, alleging First and Fourteenth Amendment violations and assault, among other claims.

In a separate suit, Olsten was charged with three counts of assault for pepper-spraying De Mian and others present at the protest, but a Missouri Circuit Court judge found him not guilty in May 2021, ruling that his use of pepper spray was justified.

In July 2019, a district court dismissed De Mian’s claims of excessive force, failure to train and supervise, and request for punitive damages, and in September 2022, it dismissed her claims of First and Fourteenth amendment violations and various violations of state law. De Mian immediately appealed the 2022 ruling.

On Nov. 16, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision and ruled that despite De Mian’s claims that she is a well-known reporter, there was insufficient evidence to indicate that Olsten would have recognized her or that he saw her filming the protest, indicating that he could not have targeted her for her reporting.

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 De Mian, 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.”

De Mian’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 De Mian, 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 De Mian, 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.

De Mian 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 De Mian, 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, De Mian said she 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.

De Mian 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, De Mian 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 De Mian and says repeatedly, “time to go."

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

De Mian 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].