Multiple journalists say they were targeted by law enforcement while covering a Portland protest

July 25, 2020

Three journalists said law enforcement officers targeted them with crowd-control munitions and physical force while they were covering protests in Portland, Oregon, in the early morning hours of July 25, 2020.

The protests were among many demonstrations that broke out in response to police violence and in support of Black Lives Matter following the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.

Law enforcement officers in Portland had targeted journalists since the outbreak of the demonstrations, according to a class-action lawsuit filed in June by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon. The case resulted in a temporary restraining order on July 2 barring the Portland police from harming or impeding journalists, which was expanded to include federal agents later that month.

The Department of Homeland Security hasn’t responded to requests for comment on any incidents involving its officers. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which operates under the DHS, referred the Tracker to the DHS for comment.

At about 2:25 a.m., independent journalist Brian Conley was filming as federal agents attempted to clear protesters from the intersection of Southwest Third Avenue and Southwest Salmon Street, in front of the courthouse. In a video later posted on Twitter by Conley, federal agents can be seen using tear gas to disperse the crowd and the sounds of other crowd-control munitions being fired can be heard. Conley stood close to federal agents as he filmed.

At one point, a tear gas canister can be seen flying through the air directly at Conley from the left-hand side of his shot.

“That’s like the second tear gas I’ve been hit with,” he says in the video. “They threw that shit right at me.”

As a tear gas canister smoked on the ground in front of Conley and two other journalists who were wearing gas masks, federal agents can be heard firing more crowd-control rounds.

Conley told the Tracker he believed federal agents deployed the tear gas in his direction, even though he was standing next to federal agents. In the video, it isn’t clear whether the canister was deployed by federal agents. Conley said he was wearing a photographer’s vest and a helmet, both of which had press markings on them.

In a statement that is part of an American Civil Liberties Union suit Conley joined, he said agents began using tear gas for “no discernible reason” and that they gave no warnings or orders to disperse.

Independent videographer Johnny Lynch said federal agents struck and shoved him, knocking off his helmet while he was covering protests near the intersection of Southwest Third Avenue and Southwest Salmon Street, at the park in front of the Multnomah County Justice Center.

Lynch, who was reporting for Black Zebra Productions, a community-based storytelling production crew, said officers were known to “beat people up” in the park, so he tried to stay close by to document what was happening. “They would always push [press] back if we were up there,” Lynch told the Tracker. “[This] night, they were extra mad. They pulled my gas mask and knocked my helmet onto the ground.”

In a video shared by Lynch and reviewed by the Tracker, officers can be seen aggressively walking toward him. One reaches out to grab what Lynch said was his gas mask and helmet strap. Another grabs the camera, which tilts downward where Lynch’s helmet can be seen rolling on the ground. Lynch said he had been wearing press identifications issued by The Sacramento Bee and Black Zebra Productions.

Officers then pushed him into the line of agents who were firing crowd control rounds into the crowd, according to Lynch. “I was backing away and then they threw a concussion grenade directly at me that went off a few feet in front of my face,” he said. “Didn’t break anything luckily, but that was a really direct experience.”

Officers also threw a tear gas canister, which Lynch said hit him in the neck and left a chemical burn for a few days, but he said that the canister could have been directed toward the crowd in general.

At 3:05 a.m. on July 25, independent journalist Griffin Malone was shot in the leg with a projectile by a Portland Police Bureau officer. He said he was standing at the intersection of Main Street and Third Avenue at the time of the incident.

Malone tweeted a video of the incident, which shows a water bottle land at the feet of the officer in the upper right frame. The office then turns and shoots directly at Malone at the eight-second mark.

Malone said he was advised In conversations with the ACLU that the incident happened so quickly it would be difficult to prove that it was targeted. However, Malone felt that it was personal. “I had run-ins with that officer earlier in the day and they already acknowledged me and the other press standing in the corner,” he told Tracker.

Malone believes the projectile was a pepper ball. It hit him on part of his leg where he had additional padding, and though it left a tiny bruise he told Tracker it didn’t hurt him badly.

When reached for comment in the fall of 2020, the PPB told the Tracker it wouldn’t comment on specific incidents, citing continuing litigation in the ACLU case. Then in early 2021, PPB spokesman Derek Carmon said the department was committed to upholding civil rights for all citizens, including by requiring officers to report any use of force for review.

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

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