Yellow Scene Magazine editor shot with pepper balls while covering Denver protest

May 30, 2020

Johnathen Duran, content editor at Colorado-based Yellow Scene Magazine, said he was shot with pepper balls and hit with tear gas while livestreaming from a Black Lives Matter protest in Denver on May 30, 2020.

“I was shot in the arm and foot with pepper balls,” Duran, who writes under the name De La Vaca, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. “This was at approximately 5:40-6 p.m.,” he said, adding that police officers used chemical agents including smoke bombs and pepper balls, as well as flash-bang grenades, on protesters in a dirt lot adjacent to the city’s Civic Center Station.

“I was on the far sidewalk, taking photographs while wearing a press badge,” he said. “I was subsequently hit with tear gas twice, once on the Capitol lawn, and the second time of which forced me to leave the protest to recover.”

Duran shared images with the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker of bruising on his arms, which he said were caused by the pepper balls.

A Denver Police Force spokesperson said the department didn’t have a record of the incident. However, the spokesperson said the department had undertaken a review of its response to the large-scale demonstrations in the city following the killing of George Floyd, some of which escalated into violence.

The department reviewed the use and tracking of “less-than-lethal” munitions, the processes for documenting use of force during protests, the use of body cameras and improving dispersal orders, among other issues.

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

July 23, 2020 Update

Johnathen Duran, content editor at Colorado-based Yellow Scene magazine, was added as a plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against the cities of Denver and Aurora and numerous law enforcement officials and officers on July 23, 2020, in response to his assault while covering protests on May 30.

Duran, who writes under the name De La Vaca, was livestreaming a Black Lives Matter protest outside Denver’s Civic Center Station when he was struck with multiple pepper balls and caught in tear gas twice, which forced him to leave the protest in order to recover. He was also struck in the groin with a rubber bullet while documenting protests the following night.

The suit, reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, was filed on behalf of Duran and six Denver residents who were also affected by Denver Police officers’ crowd-control efforts at Black Lives Matter protests from May 30 through June 5. The suit alleges First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations, as well as “failure to intervene,” and seeks a permanent injunction barring future violations, damages and attorney’s fees.

Elizabeth Wang, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, told the Tracker a trial date has been set for March 7, 2022.

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