U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Journalists threatened with assault while covering Olympia protest

Incident Details

Date of Incident
January 6, 2021
Olympia, Washington


Was the journalist targeted?
March 15, 2021 - Update

Man sentenced for assault, harassment of journalists during Jan. 6 protests at Washington state capitol

A man charged with spraying two journalists with a chemical irritant and threatening others during a January protest at the Capitol in Olympia, Washington, pleaded guilty to multiple charges on March 15, 2021.

The protest was one of several held by supporters of President Donald Trump around the country on Jan. 6, with the largest being the riot at the U.S. Capitol. In Olympia, the demonstration began at the Capitol before migrating to the Governor’s Mansion, growing increasingly aggressive as the afternoon wore on.

According to court records, the man, identified as Damon Huseman, was armed with an assault rifle, handgun and knife. He told a freelance photojournalist and a TVW videojournalist that the media wasn’t welcome at the demonstration and sprayed them with bear spray after they refused to leave. He also later threatened Olympian reporter Sara Gentzler and Associated Press photojournalist Ted S. Warren, boasting that he had assaulted other journalists earlier that day. Read more about each of the assaults here.

Gentzler told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he threatened to kill them. “As he was sort of going away from us he said, ‘We’re going to shoot you fucking dead in the next year,’” she said.

Huseman was arrested on Jan. 19, and pleaded guilty to three counts of third-degree assault, two counts of harassment and one count of criminal trespass on March 15. Following his plea, Huseman was sentenced to six months in prison on each assault charge and 90 days for each of the remaining charges, all to be served concurrently.

The Olympian reported that while Huseman pleaded guilty, he said in a written statement that he had acted in self defense and only accepted a plea deal to avoid a trial.

January 19, 2021 - Update

Man arrested for assaulting, harassing multiple journalists

A man was charged in connection with the harassment and assault of multiple journalists during the course of protests at the Capitol in Olympia, Washington, on Jan. 6, 2021.

The journalists in question were Olympian reporter Sara Gentzler, AP photojournalist Ted S. Warren, an unidentified freelance photojournalist and an unidentified videojournalist for state public broadcaster TVW. The man, armed with a rifle, a handgun and a knife, allegedly sprayed the freelancer and videojournalist with a chemical irritant, and threatened Gentzler and Warren, the Olympian reported.

The Washington State Patrol said in a press release on Jan. 19 that Damon Huseman, a 26-year-old resident of Seattle, had been taken into police custody without incident and was being booked at the Thurston County Jail on charges of second-degree assault, felony harassment and criminal trespass in connection with the events of Jan. 6.

According to the Seattle Times, Huseman had a preliminary court appearance on Jan. 20 and was ordered to remain in custody in lieu of $50,000 bail. The judge also ordered Huseman to have no contact with the journalists he’s accused of targeting or the Capitol campus.

January 6, 2021

Sara Gentzler, a reporter for the Olympian, was threatened by an armed individual while covering a demonstration at the Capitol in Olympia, Washington, on Jan. 6, 2021.

The protest that day, which started at the Capitol, migrated to the Governor’s Mansion and grew increasingly aggressive as the afternoon wore on, was one of several held by supporters of President Donald Trump around the country, organized as the U.S. Congress was set to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.

Gentzler told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that she had been covering the protest intermittently since noon. When she returned shortly before 3 p.m., a man armed with multiple firearms and a knife approached her.

“He asked, ‘Are you with the media?’ I said yes, and he asked, ‘Which publication?’ And he obviously didn’t want me there,” Gentzler said. The same man approached her again a little while later, after she had met up with AP photojournalist Ted S. Warren.

“He was very aggressive and made it very clear that he didn’t want us there. He said he had pepper-sprayed members of the media earlier in the day and we had five minutes to leave,” Gentzler said.

In a short clip Gentzler posted to Twitter shortly before 3 p.m., the man can briefly be seen before lunging at Gentzler and trying to grab her phone in an attempt to prevent her from filming the interaction

KOMO News reported that the same man had threatened and sprayed two members of the media with what court documents identified as bear spray near the intersection of 11th Avenue and Capitol Way South at around noon, incapacitating both for hours. The Tracker documented the multiple assaults in Olympia here.

“As he was sort of going away from us,” Gentzler said, “he said, ‘We’re going to shoot you fucking dead in the next year.’”

“I’m used to people generally expressing anti-media sentiment, I’ve kind of come to expect it. But that was an exceptional interaction. It definitely felt aggressive and truly frightening,” Gentzler said. “I was just trying to figure out what my next move was, rethinking what I could do to be safe and continue doing this.”

Gentzler told the Tracker that she and Warren were able to meet up with other journalists to have safety in numbers and to warn them about the man.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting multiple incidents involving journalists, including assaults, arrests and equipment damage, from Jan. 6. All of our election-related coverage can be found here.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to include comment from Sara Gentzler and to identify Ted S. Warren of The Associated Press.

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