Photographer slammed to the ground, arrested by Portland police

August 8, 2020

Joseph Rushmore, a freelance documentary photographer, was arrested by police officers and charged with two misdemeanors while covering a demonstration in the early hours of Aug. 8, 2020, in northeast Portland, Oregon.

The protest was one of many that have broken 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.

Law enforcement officers in Portland have 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 ACLU suit led to the city agreeing to a preliminary injunction in July to not arrest, harm or impede the work of journalists or legal observers of the protests.

Rushmore was covering a protest that began at around 9 p.m. in Laurelhurst Park. Protesters then marched about a half mile to the Penumbra Kelly building, a repeated focus of demonstrators because it houses the Multnomah County Sheriff's office and some Portland Police Bureau units.

Protesters blocked the road in front of the building while chanting, making speeches and yelling at officers, Rushmore told the Tracker. At one point, police officers rushed into the crowd, driving protesters into the surrounding residential neighborhood.

At some point after midnight, about 50 protesters regrouped to head back to the Kelly building, said Rushmore, who was following them. When the group was about a block from the building, officers blocked the way and started pushing protesters and journalists west along East Burnside Street.

Footage of Rushmore’s arrest, taken by an observer sometime after 1 a.m. and shared with the Tracker, shows officers rushing into the street and knocking down Rushmore and several protesters. Rushmore can be seen getting grabbed from behind and thrown to the ground. A group of officers then restrains Rushmore and arrests him.

“I have two very large cameras around my neck at all times so it is quite obvious I am press,” said Rushmore, though he wasn’t wearing any press credentials or clothing marked as press.

“During this rush, an officer with Portland Police Bureau grabbed me from behind, spun me around and threw me to the ground, slamming my head hard into the pavement,” said Rushmore, adding that his helmet protected him from injury. “At least one more officer got on top of me, and they held me down while zip-tying my hands behind my back. I yelled to the officer that I was press multiple times. He told me, `Now you're part of the riot.’ And when I told him again I was just press, he said, ‘Then you shouldn’t have been rioting.’”

The officers searched Rushmore and seized his helmet, camera, backpack and phone before being taken to the Kelly building, he said. He was then sent to the jail at the Multnomah County Justice Center downtown, where he was detained in a general holding area. By noon, Rushmore was released, he said. He got all his equipment back two days after his arrest.

Rushmore was charged with two misdemeanors, interfering with an officer and disorderly conduct, but the charges were dropped sometime in the weeks after the arrest, he said.

Portland City Attorney Tracy Reeve didn’t respond to a request for comment. The PPB has said it wouldn't comment on incidents involving journalists covering the protests, citing continuing litigation in the ACLU case.

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

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