ACLU of Minnesota files class action lawsuit against state, local police, alleging journalists were targeted

By: - June 3, 2020 7:00 am

NBC video and photojournalist Ed Ou was pepper sprayed and shot with a less-lethal projectile. Photo courtesy of ACLU of Minnesota.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of journalists, alleging Minneapolis and several city and state police officials deliberately targeted media during recent protests. 

The lawsuit, filed late Tuesday in federal court, follows a wave of incidents in which journalists were arrested and hit with various projectiles as they documented the protests that arose following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed when a Minneapolis police officer put his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.

The suit seeks damages for injured journalists, as well as a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction ordering law enforcement to cease targeting and attacking members of the press.

The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit is Jared Goyette, a freelance journalist who has written for the Washington Post, the Guardian and Minnesota Reformer. The lawsuit details the arrests of journalists in Minneapolis over the past week, including those from CNN, WCCO and the Star Tribune, as well as specific instances when officers used physical force, chemical agents and threatening language or gestures.

The Minneapolis Police Department declined to comment until seeing the lawsuit. State law enforcement officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment late Tuesday. 

Embedded in the text of the lawsuit are graphic photos of injuries sustained by members of the press over the past week at the hands of city and state law enforcement.

Along with the city, defendants listed are Minneapolis Chief of Police Medaria Arradondo, Minneapolis Police Lieutenant Robert Kroll, Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, Minnesota State Patrol Colonel Matthew Langer and two John Does who stand in as unidentified Minneapolis Police Department or Minnesota State Patrol officers.

“The press is under assault in our City,” the lawsuit begins. “Over the past week, the Minneapolis Police and the Minnesota State Patrol have tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed, shot in the face with rubber bullets, arrested without cause and threatened journalists at gunpoint, all after these journalists identified themselves and were otherwise clearly engaged in their reporting duties.”

Freelance journalist Linda Tirado was permanently blinded in her left eye after Minneapolis police fired a less-lethal projectile at her. Photo courtesy ACLU of Minnesota.

The suit continues: “The past week has been marked by an extraordinary escalation of unlawful force deliberately targeting reporters.” 

The lawsuit goes on to criticize leaders of law enforcement agencies for not taking action to stop the violence — and Gov. Tim Walz for issuing “toothless” statements. 

It also accuses the Minneapolis Police Department of ignoring the governor’s exemption of journalists in his curfew orders and notes a historical failure of the department to train and supervise its officers around Constitutional and First Amendment rights of the press.

“Journalists aren’t the only victims,” Goyette said in a Tuesday news release. “Actions like this make protesters, people trying to advocate for change, more vulnerable because journalists provide a witness and police are aware of that. Without journalists there, police or other people in power can feel a sense of impunity that no one will see what’s happening anyway. Everyone needs to know people are watching.”

The ACLU of Minnesota is also “pursuing legal options to stop police brutality against protesters and (people of color) organizers,” the release said.

Fredrikson and Byron and Apollo Law have joined the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs.  

This story is developing.

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Hannah Black

Hannah Black is a freelance journalist in the Twin Cities. Most recently she covered city government, public safety and business for an east metro newspaper.