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Freelance journalist Donovan Farley will file a lawsuit after being struck, pepper sprayed while covering a protest last year.

POOL PHOTO VIA OPB - Portland Police Bureau officers stood guard as demonstrators massed along fencing surrounding the Multnomah County Justice Center on June 6, 2020. After a review, Portland's top prosecutor has declined to charge a police officer who pepper sprayed and hammered baton strikes on a reporter filming the arrest of a protester last year.

But the matter is far from settled. Donovan Farley, the freelance journalist whose first-person account of the incident went viral, will sue the city instead, according to his lawyer.

"The conduct is excessive force and arbitrary assault and battery," said Jane Moisan, an attorney with the People's Law Project. "Mr. Farley was not behaving illegally and should have been able to rely on being safe around law enforcement."

It happened just before midnight on June 6, 2020 — during the ninth consecutive night of an unprecedented uprising — as cops declared an unlawful assembly and cleared demonstrators massed in the parks between central precinct and City Hall, with 50 arrests made in the process.

TV chopper footage shows Farley holding up a cell phone and standing paces away as police pin one arrestee to the ground. Officer Cameron Smith notices Farley, walks over and shoves him, per the footage, prompting Farley to brush off the strikes with swings of his arm.

The video then shows Smith making a baton strike and unleashing a volley of pepper spray as Farley backs off. Farley continues to walk away and is prodded in the back with the baton by Smith; when he turns back around, he's hit by another blast of the chemical spray.

"He knows I'm press. He was getting his licks in," said Farley, whose writing has appeared in Playboy, Rolling Stone and the local arts pages, adding that he was wearing a media badge. "There was no arrest — he knew he was assaulting me."

Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill, who would step down ahead of schedule the next month, saw the footage and eventually requested a criminal investigation, according to documents obtained by the Portland Tribune. The case was handled by Deputy D.A. Brad Kalbaugh, and not brought to a grand jury.

New D.A. Mike Schmidt considered charges of fourth-degree attempted assault and second-degree unlawful use of mace, but declined to prosecute Officer Smith due to "insufficient evidence," per the memo. Smith joined the bureau in early 2017 and remains on patrol in the city's East Precinct.

The memo describes Farley as combative and says a different video, taken by Criminalist Jason Mills, recorded Farley saying, "Take that s--t off, motherf----r!"

Farley, however, says he only raised his arm to block the officer from taking his cellphone, and said the police quote was inaccurate.

"It's totally and unequivocally false that I would try to fight a police officer," he said. "The guy was abdicating his duty and trying to prevent me from doing my job."

Farley never filed a police report or responded to a detective's letter, saying the incident left him shaken and unable to believe he would be treated fairly. After receiving death threats for unrelated reporting, he ended up sheltering in a motel, based on advice from a security chief at Vice.

Moisan, his lawyer, agrees that the effects from the encounter were serious and long-lasting.

"The public can see these incidents and it's just a blip on the screen," she said. "But that violence and injury has an ongoing consequence."

Reporter Nick Budnick contributed to this article.


Zane Sparling
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