An ugly scene at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem Monday, as hundreds of demonstrators protesting the state’s coronavirus restrictions traded pepper spray with police officers in an attempt to force their way into the building.
The Capitol building — while technically in session for lawmakers to debate a proposed $800 million pandemic relief package and other measures related to Covid-19 — was largely empty, as many legislators and staff members participated virtually in meetings that streamed live on the state’s website.
Capitol staff had also set up screens outside for visitors to view the proceedings.
The Capitol has been closed to the public for in-person attendance of sessions since March, and Oregon state troopers and Salem police officers attempted to bar entry to the protestors, some of whom bore assault weapons and other military-style gear, while others carried American flags or banners supporting President Donald Trump.
Troopers were sprayed with “some kind of chemical agent” on two different occasions after protesters entered the building around 8:30 a.m., OSP later reported. State police declared the protest an unlawful assembly, and officers returned fire with inert pepper balls.
Protesters shouted their objections to Brown’s coronavirus restrictions and their impact on businesses and schools. “Arrest Kate Brown,” the crowd chanted at one point. One person carried a sign that read, “Politicians Are the Virus. Revolution Is the Cure.”
After approximately two hours, Salem and state police “started to push the crowd out of the building,” when a man later identified as 41-year-old Ryan Lyles allegedly used bear spray against police officers.
Lyles was taken into custody and lodged at the Marion County Jail on multiple charges, including trespassing and assaulting a police officer. Two others — Ronald Vanvlack, 75, and Jerry Dyerson, 53 — were also arrested around this time and charged with criminal trespass and disorderly conduct.
Officers at the Capitol did not use tear gas, according to a release from OSP, but police said the protesters deployed an unspecified device that emitted a large amount of blue smoke during the engagement.
At about 1:30 p.m., demonstrators again attempted to gain entry to the Capitol building by breaking glass in the two west-facing doors. One of the men involved, 35-year-old Jeremiah Pruitt, was arrested for criminal trespass and disorderly conduct.
Another, 40-year-old Jeremy Roberts, was identified as a person that attempted to gain access through the west door and was allegedly involved in an assault on two journalists, including OPB reporter Sergio Olmos. OSP said troopers are attempting to locate Roberts, but he was not in custody as of Monday evening.
“The Oregon State Police encourage people to exercise their First Amendment rights, but it must be lawfully,” OSP said in the statement. “Please, discontinue the acts of vandalism or destruction of property. If you commit a crime, you will be subject to arrest.”
Images of the demonstrators clashing with police at the doors of the State Capitol made national news, and was quickly picked up and shared by dozens of outlets throughout Monday.
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