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, was deliberately sprayed with tear gas while covering protests in Portland, Oregon, during the late hours of June 6, 2020, according to a class-action lawsuit filed by ACLU of Oregon.
Protests in the city that day were in response to a video showing a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25. Protests against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have been held across the United States since the end of May.
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 the ACLU suit. The suit led to an agreement by the Portland Police Bureau in July not to arrest or harm any journalists or legal observers of the protests. Wheeler later banned the police from using tear gas as a form of crowd control on Sept. 10.
Just before midnight on June 6, Elia was attacked while filming police clearing out protesters in Chapman Square downtown. In a live video that Elia posted on Twitter, an officer can be seen turning toward him and spraying him in the face and on the camera. “They just sprayed me!” Elia can be heard yelling. “I’m down, I can’t see,” he said, adding that he had been holding up his press pass.
“Police knew he was press when they attacked him,” the ACLU complaint says. Elia ended up going to the hospital to be treated.
The ACLU filed the complaint on June 28 on behalf of multiple journalists. 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.
Asked in an interview about his decision to participate in the suit, Elia told the Tracker, “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.”
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 documents journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas or who had their equipment damaged in the course of reporting. Find all incidents related to Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protests here.
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 has filed an independent civil rights suit with journalist Lesley McLam.