Independent journalist receives $50,000 to settle lawsuit stemming from arrest, assaults at protests in 2020
According to a settlement notice filed on July 29, 2022, independent journalists Cory Elia and Lesley McLam were collectively paid $90,000 to settle their joint lawsuit against the City of Portland, the state and multiple law enforcement officers.
The pair reached a settlement with the City of Portland on April 28, wherein the city agreed to pay $55,000. The settlement agreement submitted in July revealed that Multnomah County and the State of Oregon agreed to pay $15,000 and $20,000, respectively, toward the total settlement.
According to the filing, Elia was issued $50,000 total, and McLam $40,000.
City of Portland pays two journalists $55,000 to settle lawsuit stemming from arrests, assaults at protests in 2020
Independent journalists Cory Elia and Lesley McLam reached a settlement agreement with the City of Portland during a videoconference on April 26, 2022, according to court records reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
Both Elia and McLam were covering protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for KBOO Community Radio and Village Portland in the summer of 2020. The journalists were assaulted on multiple occasions, and the pair were arrested on June 30.
Elia and McLam filed a civil lawsuit against the city, the state and multiple law enforcement officers on July 8, citing multiple press freedom violations against the journalists. The Oregonian reported that the city agreed to pay $55,000 to settle the lawsuit after an investigation of their claims found that the city risked being found liable if the case went to trial.
According to court records, District Court Judge Michael Simon dismissed the case on April 28, 2022, granting the parties 60 days to comply with the agreement.
Cory Elia, an editor at Village Portland and host of a KBOO podcast, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he was assaulted by police on June 2, 2020, in Portland, Oregon, despite clearly identifying himself as press.
The protest was one of many 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 in Minneapolis. The 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 a class action suit the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon filed against the Portland Police Bureau in June.The city agreed to a preliminary injunction in July to not to arrest or harm any journalists or legal observers of the protests or impede their work.
“The police physically assaulted KBOO reporter Cory Elia because he was recording them,” the complaint said.
On June 2 at 11:34 p.m., Elia posted a video of protesters running from the police, who can be heard declaring the protest an unlawful assembly. Projectiles can be seen landing between the protesters as they run through tear gas, while flash bangs can also be heard.
About 10 minutes later, Elia tweeted, “I just got manhandled by police after filming this one even while identifying myself as a journalist and showing my press pass. They slammed me into a wall as I was choking on teargas. An independent journo pulled me away from officers and got me out.”
Elia told the Tracker that an officer struck him in the back with a baton, and then he was slammed into the wall head first. He fell over his bicycle and hit his ribs on the handlebars, then officers kicked him as he choked on tear gas, he said.
A video recorded by reddit user testsubject011 shows part of the assault. The person recording the video approaches Elia, who is straddling his bicycle and holding up his press pass. “I’m a journalist, I’m a journalist. If they start messing with me just keep chasing them,” says Elia, before warning, “They’re coming behind you.”
The person continues to record while retreating from police. When Elia comes back into view about 24 seconds into the video, he appears to get pinned against the wall by police.
“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,” Elia told the Tracker.
On July 8, Elia and Lesley McLam, a colleague at Village Portland and KBOO radio station, filed a civil lawsuit against the city, the state, and multiple law enforcement officers for allegedly violating their constitutional rights and for battery, assault, negligence and false arrest. They are also seeking compensation for their injuries and punitive damages.
The PPB has said they wouldn't comment on incidents involving journalists covering the protests, citing continuing litigation.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect that Cory Elia is not a plaintiff in the ACLU of Oregon's lawsuit, but filed an independent civil rights suit with journalist Lesley McLam.