Journalist hit with tear gas and crowd-control rounds during Portland protest

August 16, 2020

Law enforcement officers hit Juniper Simonis with pepper spray and impact rounds as the independent journalist and scientist reported on protests in Portland, Oregon, on Aug. 16, 2020, they told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

On the night of Aug. 15 and early into the morning of Aug. 16, Simonis was covering demonstrations against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Simonis has been publishing information for several months about law enforcement’s use of chemical irritants at protests on Twitter and on the website chemicalweaponsresearch.com.

Law enforcement officers in Portland 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 ACLU suit led to a temporary restraining order, and later a preliminary injunction, barring the Portland Police Bureau from harming or impeding journalists.

Shortly after midnight on the 16th, Simonis was outside the Penumbra Kelly Building on East Burnside Street when a confrontation flared up between a line of police officers and protesters. Simonis told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker they saw a police officer pull a woman into a bush and arrest her. Another protester ran across the street toward them to intervene, but was met by a group of several officers who fired tear gas at him.

Simonis was filming the incident from the sidewalk when a group of officers approached and noticed the equipment Simonis said was for scientific documentation. In footage of the incident that Simonis filmed with a body cam and later posted on Twitter, the journalist can be heard yelling “I am press and that is scientific equipment!” as a police officer tells him, “well it’s a weapon right now.” Simonis said the equipment consisted of a metal bucket filled with sand and fireplace tongs used to extinguish and examine hot objects, such as gas canisters.

The journalist said they were wearing a helmet and hazard vest that had “press” written on them in black permanent marker.

As the officer grabbed the bucket and tongs from Simonis, the two struggled until an officer sprayed the journalist with pepper spray, Simonis told the Tracker. At that point, Simonis said, the equipment and cell phone went flying. WIth tear gas on their face and back, Simonis approached the officers and began yelling angrily. Simonis was then hit in the thigh and rear with two crowd-control rounds.

Simonis then walked to where their car was parked nearby and washed off the tear gas. The journalist was missing their phone and car keys, which had been attached to the bucket with a carabiner. Several hours later, Simonis said a friend returned to the scene and convinced the officers to return his bucket and fireplace tongs. Simonis also said an unidentified individual found and returned the cell phone but didn’t provide more information.

Simonis posted photos to Twitter showing bruises on their thigh and hip area from the impact rounds.

Portland Police Bureau spokesman Sgt. Kevin Allen declined to comment on the incident, citing continuing litigation involving the City of Portland.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists being assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas, or having their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country. Find these incidents here.

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

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