A 26-year-old Seattle man was arrested Tuesday, accused of dousing two photojournalists with bear spray and threatening a newspaper reporter during the Jan. 6 protests at the Washington state Capitol, where supporters of former President Donald Trump breached a fence outside the Governor's mansion in Olympia, according to court documents filed in Thurston County Superior Court.
Damon Huseman, who lives on Seattle's Capitol Hill, was charged Jan. 11 with two counts of second-degree assault for spraying the faces of a freelance photographer and a videojournalist with TVW, the state's public affairs network, with bear spray, incapacitating the men for hours and impeding them from carrying out their duties, according to charging documents.
Huseman — who at the time was armed with an assault-style rifle, a handgun and a knife — was also charged with felony harassment, accused of lunging at a reporter in an attempt to grab her cellphone and threatening her and other members of the media, stating, "We're going to shoot you (expletive) dead in the next year," the charges say.
Huseman, who was booked into the Thurston County Jail, made his preliminary court appearance via Zoom on Wednesday afternoon before Thurston County Superior Court Judge Sharonda Amamilo, who ordered him held in lieu of $50,000 bail. She also ordered Huseman to have no contact with the three journalists he's accused of targeting or the Capitol campus.
Defense attorney Danielle Walker, who had requested Huseman be released on personal recognizance, entered not guilty pleas on his behalf to all three charges. She told the judge Huseman has lived in the area for eight years, was previously employed and has no criminal history. Walker also said Huseman had the right to be armed, noting he is not accused of pointing or firing his weapons at anyone.
In response to a civil Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) filed by a Patrol detective, Walker said Huseman surrendered all his firearms without argument.
"I think the lack of firearms could assuage any fear that he could commit a violent offense ... This was a situation with very, very heightened emotion, with everyone screaming, with the President of the United States [inciting] people to insurrections," Walker said. "He did not do anything, though. He did not shoot anyone. He's turned over all of his guns. This is a one-time situation."
The judge, however, disagreed with Walker's assessment, saying Huseman poses a danger to the community.
"In this case, Mr. Huseman is alleged to have targeted media in a very threatening manner and when they were exercising their legitimate rights, within their employment and in a public place," Amamilo said. "It is alleged that Mr. Huseman then in threatening them, made demands of them that were not in his legal right to do so. And when they did not comply with Mr. Huseman's demands, the allegations are that Mr. Huseman then determined they needed to be punished and/or, in this case, physically coerced into complying with his unlawful demands."
The Washington State Patrol (WSP) obtained a warrant for Huseman's arrest and after he was seen walking down a Seattle street on Tuesday afternoon, he was taken into custody without incident with assistance from Seattle police, said Sgt. Darren Wright, a spokesperson for the State Patrol.
According to Wright, Huseman was also seen on video on the grounds of the Governor's mansion during the Jan. 6 protest and could potentially face an additional charge of criminal trespass.
Washington's "extreme risk" protection law was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2016 and went into effect in 2018, allowing police and family members to ask a judge to keep firearms out of the hands of people believed to pose a danger to themselves or others; if approved, a judge can impose a one-year gun ban and if firearms aren't voluntarily turned over, police can obtain a warrant for their seizure.
In the criminal case against Huseman, the charges say all three victims provided similar descriptions of their assailant and identified Huseman as the suspect from their own photos and those posted to social-media sites.
According to charging documents and the ERPO petition:
Around noon on Jan. 6, a freelance photojournalist arrived at the Capitol and began photographing the demonstrators at 11th Avenue and Capitol Boulevard when he was approached by a man armed with an assault-style rifle who told the photographer to leave. When the photographer refused, the man sprayed his face and camera lens with bear spray, disorienting and blinding the photographer who asked a passerby for help. The passerby washed his eyes out with water.
The photographer later drove to his mother's house and took a shower, but continued to feel the burning effects of the spray for the rest of the day and was unable to return to work, according to the charges.
Soon after the photographer was sprayed, a journalist with TVW exited his office carrying a camera and wearing a TVW jacket. He saw the photographer suffering the effects of bear spray and gave him a bottle of water. The photographer warned him to watch his back.
As the TVW journalist approached the protest underway on the Capitol lawn, an armed man in combat gear quickly walked toward him, yelling multiple times for the journalist "to get the (expletive) out of here," court records say.
The journalist crossed the street and was planning how to access the protest when the same man approached him from behind; the journalist turned and was sprayed in the face with bear spray, then turned on his camera and captured images of his assailant that he later shared with Patrol investigators, the charges say.
Concerned for his safety, the journalist returned to his office where a co-worker helped him. He too was unable to return to work that day.
Later that same afternoon, a reporter noticed protesters walking toward the entrance to the Governor's mansion and was approached by a man armed with "a big gun" who demanded to know if she was a member of the media, got in her face and lunged at her, trying to grab her cellphone. He told the reporter she had five minutes to leave and said he'd already sprayed other journalists, according to the charges.
In a later interview with a Patrol detective, the reporter said she felt she and other journalists were at risk of being shot and that she had never before been threatened on the job to that extent. She told the detective that later that night, she requested a bulletproof vest from her news agency.
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