PORTLAND — Justin Dunlap, a lighting designer at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall for the last 16 years, was looking for something to do after the coronavirus shut down the downtown Portland performance center.
The 44-year-old from Vancouver soon got hooked using his Samsung Galaxy s10 and selfie stick to livestream the city’s nightly summer protests on his Facebook page.
But what became an artistic outlet for Dunlap turned into evidence for Portland police homicide detectives Saturday night as Dunlap caught video of the gunfire that left Aaron “Jay” Danielson, dead on Southwest Third Avenue, near Alder Street.
Dunlap was walking south on the east side of Third and about to cross the Alder intersection as he talked and filmed with his phone. On the west side, he heard some men yelling. A man facing north was interacting with two men facing south in the street.
“I saw the victim pull something up from his hip with his right hand and a big cloud of mace goes in the air,” Dunlap said. “And then half a second later, there were two pops.”
The staccato sounds were unmistakably gunshots, he said. Dunlap saw a man turn around, take three or four steps, then collapse in the street, as two other men, one dressed in white and the other in dark clothes, ran off. They went north on Third, around the corner and west on Alder Street, he said.
“I very easily could have been in a life-ending injury,” Dunlap told The Oregonian/OregonLive Sunday night from his home. “That’s super scary. My wife was watching the livestream when it happened.”
Dunlap crossed Alder after the gunshots and was about 20 feet away from the scene when the mace or pepper spray hit him, stinging his eyes. Portland police arrived about 20 seconds later, he estimated.
They aggressively shoved street medics away from the victim and had to briefly restrain the victim’s distraught friend, Chandler Pappas, Dunlap said. Both Pappas and Danielson were wearing hats from the conservative group Patriot Prayer.
Pappas later said in a YouTube video that he heard others yell, “Got a couple of them right here. Pull it out. Pull it out.”
“It didn’t even register that someone was pointing a gun at us, until the shots went off,” Pappas said.
Dunlap knew to stick around. He called over to an officer, alerting police that he had filmed the shooting. Police had him sit on the back bumper of their white police van, gave him a bottle of water and an officer filmed the video that Dunlap shot on his phone. He then waited for detectives to arrive.
Chain-smoking cigarettes while sitting on the van’s rear bumper, Dunlap continued to go live on his Facebook stream, his camera focused on his face, the flashing rear light of the van behind his head. He wore a bright orange shirt and a white helmet with the word “PRESS” in black lettering across the top.
“All right, Democracy field trip, not a good night,” he told his viewers. “The one on the ground is definitely, unfortunately deceased. Loss of life is (expletive) terrible anywhere. There’s no need for this s— to happen.”
Dunlap, a married father of three, had started Saturday night in Troutdale, Ore., where he spent about two hours filming a Black Lives Matter demonstration there. As that wound down, he said he heard there was a big pro-Trump vehicle caravan that was heading into downtown Portland, with some in trucks spraying mace or firing paintballs at counter-protesters in the street.
“I thought I’m going to follow the action,” he said.
He didn’t arrive in Portland’s downtown until about 8:15 p.m. By then, the bulk of the caravan had left, yet he caught a couple of semi-trailer trucks still circling, loudly honking their horns. He also filmed some people firing paintballs from the back of a white four-door pickup.
As he walked along Southwest Third Avenue, he first mused, “I’m going to be five minutes behind the action all night long.” He often broke away when he saw a pedestrian with a dog, admiring, “hello protest pupper!” Just before he stumbled upon the shooting, he was filming the “Equality, Justice, Peace” window art outside the Avalon Flower business, and the window painting of a lotus flower outside the “Lotus & Bean” shop.
He’s been filming the protests in Portland since mid-July, streaming straight to Facebook, seeking to share what he calls “democracy in action” with his followers, perhaps at most 60 to 70 on a good night.
“I’m a big white guy. If I can’t use the privilege of size and race for something good, just being an extra body in the zone providing a piece of humanity. I’m there for the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s a noble endeavor, what that movement is trying to accomplish,” he said. “And if I can help in any way, shape and form, by getting their points of view out to more people, I will try to.”
Within hours of the shooting, Dunlap was getting requests for interviews from TV networks and newspapers. “Good Morning America” sent a crew to meet him Sunday.
“All these interviews are like little therapy sessions. It’s helped me decompress the situation,” he said. “We need to have more civil discourse and offer more love to the situation. We can’t keep escalating this fight. We’ve got to figure out a way to have discourse as opposed to weaponry.”
Dunlap plans to return to live streaming protests as soon as his wife gives him the green light.
“I’m definitely going to go back out there,” he said, acknowledging he’s partly drawn by the “adrenaline rush of it all, getting unusual shots and unusual points of view.”
As he waited for detectives Saturday night, he used his livestream to get through the nearly hourlong wait.
“I’m totally in shock right now,” he told his 77 viewers. “I thought I was going to be 5 minutes behind the action. Looks like I was in the exact wrong spot.”
He thanked his viewers for serving as his therapists, as he read their comments to him and responded to their questions. Every so often, he took a long drag on his Camel Blue cigarette.
“There should be no loss of life in a protest.”