In lawsuit, two journalists outline attacks by Portland police while covering protests

June 6, 2020

Two journalists were attacked by police officers while covering protests in Portland, Oregon during the late hours of June 6, 2020.

Independent journalist Donovan Farley was beaten with a wooden truncheon by a Portland Police Bureau officer while he was filming an arrest, and then the officer proceeded to mace Farley twice as he retreated, according to a class-action lawsuit filed by American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon. Cory Elia, an editor at Village Portland host of a KBOO podcast, was sprayed with tear gas while holding up his press pass, according to the suit.

The Portland-based journalists were covering one of the many protests that broke out across the U.S. in response to police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following 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.

In Portland, nightly protests over the death of Floyd began on May 29, prompting Mayor Ted Wheeler to declare an 8 p.m. curfew that lasted three days. Even after the curfew was lifted, journalists continued to be targeted by police, according to the ACLU suit. The suit led to an agreement by the PPB in July not to arrest or harm any journalists or legal observers of the protests. Wheeler later banned the police from using tear gas as a form of crowd control on Sept. 10.

Just before midnight on June 6, Farley began filming police officers arresting a man in Chapman Square downtown, as one officer put his knee on the man’s neck. Farley “had identified himself as press and was filming several police officers kneeling on a protester’s neck, George Floyd-style,” according to the ACLU filing.

Then, in an attack that was captured on a KATU newsfeed and posted on Twitter by Theo Van Alst, an associate professor at Portland State University, one of the officers pushes Farley back with his hand before hitting him with a truncheon. The officer can then be seen macing Farley as he turns to walk away, then hitting him and macing him again.

“I was chased and assaulted because I was a journalist who caught law enforcement behaving in the exact illegal fashion that started this nationwide uproar,” Farley said in a statement posted on Twitter. While acknowledging that he was vocal in telling the officers to remove their knee from the man’s neck, Farley said he was staying out of the way of the arrest.

The first hit with the truncheon injured his lower thigh, Farley said, and the officer also hit him between the shoulders as he was retreating. The shock of that blow is what caused him to turn around, he said, which is when the officer maced him again at close range.

“The burst was so intense that for the first second I thought he had taken out the big canister and punched me with it,” said Farley in the statement, adding that he was incapacitated for the remainder of the night.

Farley wasn’t available for further comment.

Around the same time, Elia was attacked while filming police clearing out protestors in Chapman Square, as well. In a live video that Elia posted on Twitter, an officer can be seen turning toward him and spraying him in the face and on the camera. “They just sprayed me!” Elia can be heard yelling. “I’m down, I can’t see,” he said, adding that he had been holding up his press pass.

“Police knew he was press when they attacked him,” the ACLU complaint says. Elia ended up going to the hospital to be treated.

Sergeant Kevin Allen of the PPB told the Tracker that he didn’t have information about these incidents, adding, “Portland Police Bureau requires that members use only the objectively reasonable force necessary to perform their duties and overcome the threat or resistance of the subject under the totality of the circumstances.”

Asked in an interview about his decision to participate in the class-action suit, Elia told the Tracker, “If these instances are not seen, not heard about, not reported, they can continue. It results in a very dangerous situation. Any reporter out there can be subjected to this treatment without any kind of consequence or accountability for those actions.”

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

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