Independent journalist Brian Conley was struck with crowd-control munitions fired by federal agents and said he also was targeted with a tear gas canister during a protest in Portland, Oregon, on July 24, 2020, despite a fresh court order barring federal agents in the city from harming members of the press covering protests.
Portland had been experiencing daily protests over the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.
The presence of federal law enforcement in Portland in July intensified the city's regular protests and the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in downtown Portland became a nightly flashpoint. A temporary restraining order from July 2 that barred Portland police from harming or impeding journalists was expanded to include federal agents on July 23. Despite the expansion of the temporary restraining order, the following day numerous journalists were hit with crowd-control munitions in the vicinity of the federal courthouse as protesters again gathered there. Some said they believed they were targeted.
The Department of Homeland Security, which has coordinated the federal presence in Portland, didn’t respond to a request for comment. In its “Portland Riots Read-out” DHS said one federal officer was injured during the protest, which began the night of July 23 and went through the morning of July 24.
“No injuries to protestors or rioters have been reported” the statement added. It didn’t mention any injuries to journalists, despite reports some reporters were hurt.
At about 4 a.m., Conley said he was filming a line of federal agents outside the federal courthouse at the corner of Southwest Third Avenue and Southwest Salmon Street. In a statement that is part of an ACLU suit Conley has joined, he wrote that the crowd was sparse and “mostly press.”
Video shot by Conley shows a protester approaching federal agents and dancing in front of them while holding flowers. After several minutes, federal agents can be seen grabbing the protester. As other protesters tried to intervene and wrest the detained protester from the agents, the officers began firing crowd-control munitions.
“Suddenly, without warning, the federal agent at the Courthouse shot me multiple times in my chest and my foot with incredibly painful impact munitions,” Conley wrote. “I was not in front of the few remaining protestors. There was nobody else nearby except press and a few medics. The pain was immense, but I continued to document what was happening.”
In the video, Conley can be heard yelling “Press! Press! Right here man, press!”
He said he was wearing a photographer’s vest and helmet with press markings and was filming with a large camera.
“I was very much there as a member of the press,” he told the Tracker. “I was doing my best to stay away from protesters.”
After several minutes, federal agents went inside the protective fence surrounding the courthouse.
In the video, Conley can be heard saying: “So let’s be clear, I was definitely just shot multiple times despite announcing that I was press, despite being a plaintiff in a federal complaint. I was not directly in front of the protesters, I was keeping my distance.”
Soon after, he said a tear gas canister was deployed directly at his head.
“There was no warning. It was shooting flames and exploded above me,” he wrote in a statement that is part of the ACLU suit.