Independent journalist Brian Conley said he was hit with crowd-control munitions fired by federal agents while covering protests in Portland, Oregon, in the early hours of July 28, 2020.
Conley was covering one of the many protests that had broken out across the U.S. in response to police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement after the May 25 death of George Floyd. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.
The Portland protests, held nightly since late May, had grown more intense as the presence of federal law enforcement increased in early July. A temporary restraining order on July 2 that barred the Portland police from harming or impeding journalists was expanded to include federal agents on July 23. Conley is a plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon.
On the evening of July 27, protesters gathered at the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse downtown, a nightly flashpoint for confrontations between protesters and federal agents, and demonstrated into the early hours of the morning of the next day.
Just before 1 a.m. on July 28, Conley was filming federal agents at the intersection of Southwest Third Avenue and Southwest Salmon Street as they attempted to clear protesters from the area around the courthouse.
In a video he later posted on Twitter, Conley can be heard yelling that he is press before an officer fires a tear gas canister in his direction. Another officer soon rolls a smoking canister toward Conley before puffs of pepper ball impacts can be seen in the street directly in front of him.
“Do it again — I’m press!” Conley shouts after the pepperballs are fired at him and a flash-bang grenade appears to fly toward him.
A number of projectiles hit him, Conley told the Tracker. When he was shot, he was standing in the street but in front of and away from protesters. Conley said he believes the federal agents could tell he was press, given his shouts, his camera gear, and the fact that his body armor and helmet identified him as press.
“I don’t think you can say that’s not egregious or targeted,” he said, adding that he was doing his best to stay away from protesters. “Either they didn’t care or it was intentional.”
One of the projectiles hit Conley in the foot, he said, causing what he described as a “pretty serious contusion” and the worst injury he has sustained while covering protests. He believes his foot was hit by a baton round, a crowd-control munition frequently used by law enforcement agencies across the country. Other projectiles hit him in the chest as well, but he said his body armor prevented injury.
In a declaration for the ACLU suit, Conley said that while he wanted to continue covering protests, he could “barely walk” after the incident. He was increasingly concerned about the risks of reporting when federal agents were present, he said.
Soon after, as federal agents retreated back towards the courthouse, one of them threw a flash-bang grenade at Conley, he said in the declaration. “There was nobody behind me or anybody else they could have been aiming at,” he said.
Neither the Department of Homeland Security nor the U.S. Marshals Service, which both have had federal agents in Portland, responded to requests for comment.