Radio journalist wins settlement after tear-gassing at Oakland protest
Reporter Timothy Ryan won a settlement of $400,000 from the City of Oakland in a lawsuit he filed after being tear-gassed by the police and injured at a June 2020 protest.
Ryan was covering the anti-police brutality protest for radio station KCBS when he was caught in a cloud of tear gas deployed by Oakland Police Department officers, severely injuring his right ankle when he attempted to flee.
In January 2022, he sued the City of Oakland and two police officers who had supervised the police response to the protest, accusing them of First Amendment violations, use of excessive force and a failure to intervene, and a failure to adequately train and supervise officers. He claimed that the injury he had sustained at the protest required surgery and caused permanent disability.
KCBS Radio reporter Timothy Ryan was caught in a cloud of tear gas and severely injured his ankle while covering protests in Oakland, California, on June 1, 2020, according to a lawsuit filed on his behalf in January 2022.
Protests in Oakland took place amid a national wave of demonstrations against racism and police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis in May 2020. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documented hundreds of incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control munitions or tear gas or having their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country. Find these incidents here.
Ryan told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he was covering the demonstration downtown as protesters marched toward the Oakland Police Department. According to the lawsuit, Ryan was reporting near the corner of Broadway and Ninth Streets at approximately 7:40 p.m., shortly before the city-wide curfew order went into effect.
“Just like I’ve seen so many times in Oakland, there were a couple hundred police officers, all in their riot gear,” Ryan said. “And as I usually do, I positioned myself close enough to the action but always keeping an eye out for an escape route.”
Ryan said he saw two small, plastic water bottles fly toward the police officers. Instantly, the officers began deploying tear gas and flash-bang grenades into the crowd.
“I didn’t think their reaction would be so violent,” he said. “Instantly, it just gets chaotic.”
Ryan said he was half a block away from the skirmish line and he attempted to flee as a thick cloud of tear gas enveloped him.
“I’m overcome with tear gas and it’s dark and I’m blinded,” he said. “I turn to run and in that retreat, in just the first couple of steps, I move from the sidewalk to the street and that movement twists my right foot in.”
Ryan told the Tracker he tore two ligaments and broke a bone in his right foot. He said that while the adrenaline helped him push through the pain and continue reporting for several hours, his injuries ultimately required surgery and he still has a limp.
Ryan was wearing a helmet labeled with “PRESS,” had his KCBS press identification attached to his belt and was carrying a digital recorder and microphone with the KCBS logo, according to his lawsuit.
“The tear gas attack by defendants on plaintiff RYAN was motivated by his status as a working journalist or was committed with reckless disregard to his status as a journalist and his peaceful and lawful presence at the protest,” the suit states.
Then-Deputy Police Chief Leronne Armstrong said during a town hall meeting on June 8 that the department would examine each instance when munitions were deployed during the protest, KTVU FOX 2 reported. He also acknowledged that it was possible the crowd did not hear the officer’s dispersal order.
Armstrong, who became chief of police in 2021, issued an apology one year after the protest for the police response and announced that he had issued at least 33 disciplinary actions to officers for violating city and department policy.
"We failed on June 1," Armstrong told KTVU. "We deployed tear gas outside policy. I apologize to the young people that you had to experience what you experienced. This department is holding itself accountable."
Ryan filed his lawsuit on Jan. 26, 2022, against the City of Oakland and two Oakland Police Department officers who had supervised the police response.
Ryan’s attorney, Dan Siegel, told the Tracker that the goal of the suit is to hold the department accountable for its excessive use of force, and they are seeking both policy change and monetary damages.
In November, Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu dismissed the municipal liability claims against the city, but ruled that the remainder of the claims — including First Amendment retaliation and supervisory liability — can stand.
According to court records reviewed by the Tracker, a jury trial in the case is scheduled for Sept. 25, 2023.