Minneapolis settles lawsuit with Linda Tirado, journalist blinded in one eye during May 2020 unrest

By: - May 26, 2022 1:34 pm

A photo of freelance journalist Linda Tirado, who was struck in the left eye by a projectile believed to have been fired from the weapon of Minneapolis Police. Photo courtesy of Tirado.

The Minneapolis City Council on Thursday agreed to pay a $600,000 settlement in a lawsuit brought by writer and photojournalist Linda Tirado, who was blinded in one eye by a police projectile while covering protests in May 2020.

Tirado joins an ever-growing list of bystanders and journalists receiving large settlements from the city due to the behavior of police officers in the days after the police murder of George Floyd, raising still more concerns about the city’s management of the unrest. An independent auditor who conducted an after-action review of the response said there was “a vast, vast void in consistent rules of engagement or control” during the unrest. 

Tirado, from Tennessee, started covering American civil unrest starting with the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014. Since then, she has written about protests in Chicago and Washington D.C., and the 2016 armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. 

Tirado said she came to Minneapolis after Floyd’s murder because she thought it would be a catalyst for civil unrest and was important to document. In a lawsuit filed nearly two years ago, Tirado alleged a police officer pointed a projectile launcher at her and shot her in the face with a 40mm impact round, rupturing her left eye and causing a brain injury.

Protesters brought Tirado to street medics, and someone drove her to the hospital. Despite immediate surgery, she permanently lost eyesight in her left eye.

“That part of my career was effectively ended May 29, 2020,” Tirado said in an interview with the Reformer as she recounted her injuries. Without depth perception, she uses a walker to get around and finds it difficult to pour coffee in the morning. She also has trouble recalling words.

In an early ruling in Tirado’s case last year, a federal judge wrote that “Tirado’s experience as a journalist during the George Floyd protests and her injuries are serious and troubling.”

The judge added: “That numerous other journalists experienced similar, seemingly unjustified incidents involving less-lethal munitions and other measures is even more troubling, as the allegations plausibly suggest an unconstitutional custom carried out by (Minneapolis Police) officers of targeting journalists for unlawful reprisals.”

In a separate case, another federal judge issued an injunction against the Minnesota State Patrol prohibiting them from arresting or using force against journalists covering protests.

Tirado urged officials to act quickly to make reforms to protect First Amendment rights, pointing to numerous other incidents across the country in which protesters and members of the press were injured during the national wave of demonstrations that followed Floyd’s murder.. 

The city of Minneapolis is denying wrongdoing in reaching the settlement, and the city has never admitted the officer fired the projectile that hit Tirado. During the lawsuit, the Reformer fought a city of Minneapolis subpoena for photographs, videos, and notes from a Reformer reporter who had also been shot with a police projectile.

The settlement reached in Tirado’s case is less than the $2.4 million the city paid Soren Stevenson, who was shot with a rubber bullet while protesting on May 31, 2020 and also permanently blinded in one eye, in addition to other injuries.

Tirado said she’s become closer with her camera after the incident, and photography has become an even bigger part of her life. “The only time I feel like I have two eyes now is when I’m looking through a viewfinder,” Tirado said. “It’s a remarkable adaptive device.”

Tirado said that while no amount of money could make up for a lost eye, she would do it again because the point of the press is to provide oversight.

“I did the right thing,” said Tirado. “Any time you as a member of the press are covering people who are hurting, it is worth it.”

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Tony Webster
Tony Webster

Tony Webster is a journalist and photographer. He won the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists 2017 Peter S. Popovich Award for his freedom-of-information advocacy.