Nolan Cramer, a journalism student interning for the Toledo City Paper, said he was targeted with tear gas by law enforcement while covering protests in Toledo, Ohio, on May 30, 2020.
The protest was held in response to a video showing a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, for more than eight minutes during an arrest on May 25. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital. The incident sparked anti-police brutality and Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the country.
Cramer told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he was photographing near the corner of East Woodruff and Franklin Avenues as Toledo Police Department officers worked to disperse protesters in the street at around 5:45 p.m.
“I had my camera out, my press credentials displayed and was clearly identifiable as press,” he said. “That is when a TPD officer deployed and threw a tear gas canister in my direction.”
Cramer said that the officer deliberately targeted him and Toledo Blade editor Nolan Rosenkrans, who was standing next to them, despite both of them wearing visible press passes. Both journalists were caught in the cloud of tear gas.
“Luckily, neither of us were physically injured and our equipment was not damaged,” Cramer said. “I was very fortunate that all I had to deal with was being tear gassed. So many journalists around the country are experiencing way worse.”
Rosenkrans told the Tracker that he had not felt targeted with tear gas that day, but noted that he did not know what Nolan had experienced or seen.
Reflecting on the incidents that day, Cramer told the Tracker, “What is even worse is knowing my incident was not isolated. I witnessed multiple journalists either have less lethal force used on them or be threatened with less lethal weapons.”
“In my opinion, it seemed like Toledo police officers did not care whether someone was a protester or a member of the press; their main concern was dispersing everyone in sight.”
Lt. Kellie Lenhardt, who commands the Toledo Police Public Information Section, told the Tracker over email that the department did not receive complaints from Cramer or other journalists that day.
Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said during a press conference on June 22 that there was an investigation into officers’ conduct during the protests. Kapszukiewicz also announced that officers will no longer be permitted to wear military-style camouflage.
On July 22, Toledo police announced that three officers were disciplined for misconduct during the May 30 protests. One officer received a written reprimand while the other two were suspended and given last chance warnings, meaning they could be fired following another infraction.
“Police legitimacy cannot improve if departments fail at policing their own,” Police Chief George Kral said in a press release announcing the disciplinary measures. “I will ensure that officers are held accountable when their actions are found to violate department policies, and I will always support the hundreds of officers that positively represent Toledo Police.”
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas or who had their equipment damaged in the course of reporting. Find all incidents related to Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protests here.