Reporter and photographer Kevin Beaty says that police officers tried to pelt him with pepper balls while he was covering protests in Denver on May 29, 2020.
The protests erupted in response to a video showing a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis on May 25.
Floyd was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Protests against police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have been held in cities across the U.S. since late May.
Another Black man, Elijah McClain, died in August 2019 after a fateful encounter with police in Aurora, Colorado, which is in the Denver metro area. McClain’s name has been invoked in signs and chants at protests sparked by Floyd’s death.
Beaty told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he was standing alone on the lawn of the Colorado State Capitol while covering the May 29 protests for Denverite when a truck carrying Denver Police Department officers wielding pepper ball launchers arrived and began firing off rounds.
Beaty said he didn’t take direct hits, but he heard rounds make contact with his backpack.
“Even the smallest bit of powder getting into your respiratory system will make you sneeze or cough,” Beaty said.
Beaty said that in addition to using pepper balls, Denver police were also hitting protesters with tear gas throughout the day and that he had taken some himself.
He did not seek medical attention following the May 29 protests.
Later that night, Beaty tweeted that Denver Mayor Michael Hancock told him earlier that day that police would not target bystanders to the protests.
“Why, then, did I just get shot while standing alone on the Capitol grass taking photos?” he said in the tweet.
The Denver Police Internal Affairs Bureau contacted Beaty after he tweeted about the incident, Beaty told the Tracker. He filed a report with the office, but said he has not been contacted since.
A spokesman for the Denver Police Department declined to comment on Beaty’s case.
“An internal affairs investigation into this incident is underway and it would be inappropriate for the department to comment at this time,” spokesman Jay Casillas said in an email.
Denver has seen numerous demonstrations since President Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017, Beaty said. But the protests that broke out in the days following Floyd’s death were “some of the wildest I’ve ever seen.”
“It was pretty bananas for the first few days,” Beaty said.
In the months since, Beaty said that he has seen protestors in Aurora carrying firearms. He also noted that there have been a number of shootings during area demonstrations. In July, a 23-year-old man allegedly opened fire at a Jeep that attempted to drive through a group protesting McClain’s death while marching on Interstate 225 in Aurora.
Two protesters were struck with bullets during the shooting, according to CBS4 Denver. Samuel Young, the accused shooter, is charged with four counts of attempted murder.
“In the last month, things have gotten more worrisome from a safety perspective,” Beaty said.
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.