Portland Reporter Pens First-Person Account of Being Pepper-Sprayed While Filming an Arrest

Donovan Farley, a longtime contributor to WW’s Arts & Culture section, says he was filming an arrest when he was pepper-sprayed in the eyes.

A Portland freelance reporter has penned an account of being beaten and pepper-sprayed by police officers while trying to film them making an arrest last night.

Video taken from a helicopter by WW's news partner KATU-TV around 11:45 pm on June 6 shows a person filming police in Chapman Square, until an officer turns to him, hits him with a baton and twice pepper-sprays him in the face.

Donovan Farley, a longtime contributor to WW's Arts & Culture section who has also written for national publications such as Playboy and Rolling Stone, says he was that person. His account matches what's shown in the helicopter video.

Farley says in his account that he approached the scene because he heard a protester say he could not breathe as police officers were forcefully arresting him on the ground. Farley alleges the methods police used to make the arrest resembled those that Minneapolis police applied that killed George Floyd.

"As the man sputtered and spit and gasped, I, for reasons that I'm sure are clear, shouted to get the fuck off his neck," Farley recalls. "This is the moment a fourth officer approached, reaching for his baton."

Farley says he believes officers targeted him because he was filming the arrest.

"Simply: I was chased and assaulted because I was a journalist who caught law enforcement behaving in the exact illegal fashion that started this nationwide uproar," he writes.

A representative for the Portland Police Bureau tells WW the bureau will "look into this matter and get back to you once we collect more information."

Mayor Ted Wheeler's office confirmed police were investigating. "The mayor fully supports the media and their important work covering the ongoing demonstrations and protests," says Wheeler spokesman Tim Becker.

Last night, police took an aggressive approach to clearing protesters from a fence surrounding the Multnomah County Justice Center. After protesters hurled objects over the fence at police, officers used smoke and explosives to clear demonstrators from downtown, violently dispersing the crowd while making at least 50 arrests.

In the hours after that crackdown, several accounts have emerged from journalists who say they were shoved, beaten or pepper-sprayed by officers. Most of these reporters are freelancers who move close to police lines to capture video of conflicts. At least one of them, Cory Elia, went to the hospital.

WW has not been able to independently verify all of these accounts. But Farley's narrative is bolstered by video that matches much of what he describes.

The actions by police Saturday night have ratcheted up the pressure on Mayor Wheeler to curtail police use of force on protesters.

City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly today renewed her call for banning tear gas, and said she may support barring police from using all less-than-lethal force. "The appropriate response to this national uprising is not violence—it's action from our elected leaders," she wrote on social media.

Sarah Iannarone, Wheeler's challenger in the November election, called police attacks on the press "unacceptable in a democracy."

Below is Farley's first-person account, which he agreed to allow WW to publish.

Tonight I was seriously assaulted by the Portland Police Department in the course of covering the protests. If you've been following my work you know this is not the first time. This was very different. Nothing that I have experienced was close to tonight. At the end of the protest, when the police charged and forced everyone to disperse, I was doing a journalist's duty: observing and staying out of the way of the phalanx of law enforcement and clouds of gas. All of the protesters had scattered, the park was essentially empty minus the police.

Suddenly I heard a man shouting those words that by now should be so familiar to us all: "Officer! Officer! I can't breathe man!" I jogged about ten feet away to a scene of three cops with their knees on a man—and one, of course, had his knee on the man's neck. As the man sputtered and spit and gasped, I, for reasons that I'm sure are clear, shouted to get the fuck off his neck. This is the moment a fourth officer approached, reaching for his baton.

We exchanged the usual "GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!" and "I'm press!" with an added "Get off that fucking guy!" For this, I was absolutely crushed in the lower thigh by the cop's baton. Three inches lower and my knee explodes, but this sort of blow is to be expected. However as I turned to hobble-run away, he began swinging his baton at the back of my shoulder, neck and head area. As I am very familiar with American law enforcement, their techniques (the actual ones) and their feelings of impunity when it comes to violence, I expected a couple of blows and tensed my shoulders so when they came I was fine. What I did not expect was the cop to keep chasing me—we had now traversed about 15 feet, he was chasing me—and to start doing sword type stabs at my head and neck. When he finally landed one it hit me directly between my shoulders where your neck meets your back. As everyone who has ever had a neck injury or almost had one knows, every cell in my body tensed up involuntarily as that sort of injury can end you. Though egregious, this was not the issue. The issue was as soon as I involuntarily spun around and said "Hey my nec—" the officer shot me directly in the face with not the handheld can of mace, but the crowd control mace that looks like a fire extinguisher and is meant for, well, a crowd. He was so close—one inch from my eyes—and the burst was so intense that for the first second I thought he had taken out the big canister and punched me with it.

He definitely did not have the mace out when he first struck me, so as he was following me he reached for it. This was not a reaction under pressure, I was no threat. He thought this out.

I stumbled away through the park and have no recall of how I did so or how I crossed two streets without getting hit by a car, but I eventually fell over on a side street where I poured two containers of tear gas solution mix into my face and then vomited into my face mask. As I sat there totally blind and in the most unbelievably searing pain of my life a different cop started screaming at me to get the fuck up and move, and I, from my grotesque puddle, shouted "I'm press and I can't fucking s—" before vomiting again.

Fortunately some antifa kid, who I could not see, ran over to me despite being warned not to and scooped me up and helped me away from the cops. I was so covered in tear gas he said he couldn't see after helping me, and he touched me for all of five seconds. Before he ran off he said "Man are you sure they didn't hit you with a baton in the face? Holy shit your eyes!"

I stumbled around downtown in that state for awhile, 95% blind and holding my arms out mumbling ohfuckohfuckohfuck until a random photographer (SHOUT OUT TO JEFF!) corralled me, gave me water and drove me home. That was two hours ago. I still can't see right and the pain remains tremendous.

I have a video of the man with cops on him, and I'll share more about this after speaking with my editor, but I got a taste of what law enforcement across America is doing to the press. Simply: I was chased and assaulted because I was a journalist who caught law enforcement behaving in the exact illegal fashion that started this nationwide uproar. There can be no equivocations about it. I was purposefully harmed to send an extremely painful message of intimidation.

Well those dumb bastards should have shot me, because I'm not going anywhere. This has only redoubled my determination.

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