Journalist arrested while covering a Portland protest, equipment confiscated and damaged

September 26, 2020

A journalist with Full Revolution Media said he was arrested by police while covering a protest on the night of Sept. 26, 2020, in downtown Portland, Oregon.

The protest was among the 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 city agreed to a preliminary injunction in July to not to arrest or harm any journalists or legal observers of the protests or impede their work.

Earlier in the day on Sept. 26, a rally organized by the Proud Boys far-right extremist group drew some 800 people to Portland, while at least 1,000 counter-protesters gathered nearby, The Oregonian reported. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown had declared a state of emergency ahead of the rally, putting officers from the Portland Police Bureau, Oregon State Police and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office under a unified command.

After those protests ended, left-leaning demonstrators gathered downtown later that night, according to The Oregonian, and police declared an “unlawful assembly” around 11:40 p.m. At 10:23 p.m., the MSCO tweeted that "officers have made more than a dozen arrests."

John, the Full Revolution Media journalist, told the Tracker, "I moved south and decided to separate from the protesters by myself to look for a friend that had my charging cable, as my phone was about to die."

John, who asked that his last name not be used out of safety concerns, said an officer asked him to go with the crowd, but he said, "No, I'm going southwest."

"He told me again, and knowing it was not a legal order, I started to walk when he grabbed me and said, 'You are under arrest,'" he said.

John believes he was targeted, noting he had just interacted with that officer about 30 minutes earlier.

He had press markings on the front and rear of his helmet, he said, but was still transported in a "paddy wagon with people with no masks" to the Multnomah County jail, where he was booked for harassment and interfering with a peace officer. The charges were later dropped, John said.

The journalist said he was released on a Sunday and allowed to pick up his personal belongings on Monday when the property room opened, but his work-related belongings were kept in evidence until he filed for their release. On Thursday he was allowed to retrieve his helmet, GoPro camera, Canon camera, and backpack with a backup phone, charger, batteries and other items in it.

"One of my phones (brand new) had been damaged," he told the Tracker. "I was in booking for 14 hours, and if it weren't for help from people outside jail, I wouldn't have been able to pick up my daughter."

The MSCO didn’t respond to a request for comment. The PPB has said it wouldn't comment on incidents involving journalists covering the protests, citing continuing litigation in the ACLU case.

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

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