‘Denver Post’ Photographer Says Police Officer Purposely Fired Pepper Balls At Him While He Covered Protest

DENVER, CO - MAY 29: People gather to protest the death of George Floyd on the steps of the Colorado state capitol on May 29, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. Yesterday, protests in Denver were broken up with tear gas and pepper spray after someone fired gunshots near the capitol.
Michael Ciaglo / Getty Images

A Denver Post photographer says a police officer appeared to intentionally fire pepper balls at him while the photographer was covering protests in the city on Thursday night.

Photographer Hyoung Chang was covering the protests that broke out in the city over the death of George Floyd, who died while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after an officer pressed a knee into his neck and held it there while Floyd pleaded that he could not breathe. The protests in Denver boiled over on Thursday, with some turning violent and police responding by firing pepper balls and canisters of tear gas into the crowds.

Chang said that an officer fired pepper balls at him twice, and he believes it was intentional. Pepper balls are non-lethal projectiles filled with a powdered chemical that has an effect similar to tear gas.

“If it was one shot, I can say it was an accident,” Chang said. “I’m very sure it was the same guy twice. I’m very sure he pointed at me.”

Chang added that he was taking pictures as police started to push protesters, adding that he was wearing a media badge and carrying two large cameras. He said that officers did not ask him to move or leave the area, and as he continued to take photographs he was hit in the chest with a pepper ball. A second round struck his left elbow, leaving a gash in his skin.

Chang said he continued to take photographs with a wide-angle lens as he left the area, noting that the projectile left his eyes and throat burning.

He was not the only journalist who may have been targeted by police. Denver Post reporter Elise Schmelzer also said officers fired a pepper ball at her feet despite the fact that she was wearing a reflective vest with the word “Press” on it to denote that she was covering the protests as a journalist.

This was not the only time that police were accused of targeting journalists during the unrest that spread across the country. In Minneapolis, CNN correspondent Omar Jiminez was arrested by Minnesota state police in the middle of a live broadcast on Friday morning. He and three other crew members were taken to a public safety building and later released. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz later issued an apology for the arrest.

The arrest was decried as an attack on the First Amendment, as it was clear that Jiminez was acting as a journalist and appeared to be complying with requests from police on the scene.

The Denver Post noted that it had reached out to the Denver Police Department to lodge a complaint about the officers firing at Chang.