Independent multimedia journalist Grace Morgan said she was tackled to the ground by several police officers while walking away from them during protests in Portland, Oregon, on Aug. 23, 2020.
Morgan was documenting one of the nightly protests held in downtown Portland in response to police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, 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.
In the early morning hours of Aug. 23, Morgan was covering a protest outside of the North Precinct. She told the Tracker that the police had given protesters orders to disperse, which don’t apply to members of the press, according to a preliminary injunction the city agreed to in July that bars police from harming or impeding journalists.
After forming a riot line, officers began pushing protesters to the west, Morgan said. She stood on the sidewalk filming, but the riot line extended to cover the sidewalk as well, which she described as unusual. Four officers approached Morgan, who was clearly labelled as press and filming while walking backwards, and told her to leave.
“I turned around to walk quicker and disperse essentially, and then I got pushed from behind, face forward,” Morgan explained. “I fell and caught myself on my knees and hands, and that’s when four officers held me down on the ground.”
Her phone fell out of her pocket onto the sidewalk, according to Morgan. The next thing she remembered was someone, who she later learned was a medic, lifting her up by her backpack and pulling her away from the officers. Morgan said the officers made no effort to chase or detain them.
“I realized pretty quickly that my phone was gone,” Morgan said. “Immediately I turned on the iPhone tracker and it was tracked to the North Precinct for the duration of the night, but turned off the next morning.”
The next day, Morgan said she went to the Portland Police Property Room on Northwest Industrial Street to try to claim her lost phone. She told the clerk about the incident and that the phone had been tracked to the North Precinct, but the clerk didn’t find anything relevant in the evidence log. The clerk then asked for Morgan’s contact information and said she could call again for updates.
“I kept calling the next couple of days and on the third day, the clerk said maybe an officer accidentally put it in their car or pocket and took it home,” Morgan reccounted. “I was like what? How is that a thing an officer can do?”
Morgan never got back her phone, which had cost $1,200. She said the clerk later suggested that a protester might have taken the phone, even though Morgan had tracked it to the police precinct.
The morning after the incident, Morgan went to the hospital and was diagnosed with a hairline fracture on her knee cap, she said. This was the first time she had visited a hospital for protest-related injuries despite previous incidents. Additionally, she was bruised in several areas and had to wear a soft knee brace for a month.
The Portland Police Bureau has said it wouldn't comment on incidents involving journalists covering the protests, citing continuing litigation.