Protester lawsuit filed against Minneapolis Police seeks class action status

    Protestors outside the Minneapolis Police Department Fifth Precinct. Photo by Macklin Caruso/Minnesota Reformer.

    A St. Paul woman filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis Tuesday alleging civil rights violations in connection with the protests following a video showing a white Minneapolis Police officer — since fired — with his knee on the neck of George Floyd, an unarmed and handcuffed Black man, killing him.

    Annette Williams, “an African-American female, was peacefully protesting police tactics against communities of color on a public sidewalk within the city when, without notice, a member of the Minneapolis Police Department drove past and sprayed a chemical respiratory irritant on Ms. Williams and her daughter,” the complaint alleges.

    Williams said in court filings that she believes law enforcement “used the irritant in retaliation for the protestors’ opposition to police tactics.”

    David Madgett, Williams’ attorney, said that a video published on Twitter by Star Tribune columnist Jennifer Brooks shows the incident where a police officer sprays chemical irritant out of a moving squad car.

    “It looks completely unprovoked,” said Minneapolis City Council Member Linea Palmisano, who sits on the City’s public safety committee, adding that Minn. Gov. Tim Walz said the state would be investigating all reports of excessive use of force.

    “The chemical irritant caused Ms. Williams and others to remove their facemasks worn to protect against the transmission of COVID-19 and to begin to cough uncontrollably,” the complaint says, alleging that Williams has had labored breathing, chest pain, and feels discouraged from exercising her constitutionally protected rights.

    “These types of acts against peaceful protesters have been well-documented, and our goal is to get a court order that says MPD cannot use these tactics against peaceful protesters,” said Madgett, who says he’s working to obtain a preliminary injunction against MPD’s conduct, which has chilled protected speech.

    The lawsuit seeks to be certified as a class action for “All peaceful protestors who have been injured as a result of (the Minneapolis Police Department’s) actions and who have thereafter been reluctant to speak out against police violence against citizens,” saying that the lawsuit seeks to represent “hundreds of people who cannot or will not be able to afford to retain counsel and litigate their cases though to judgment.”

    The City of Minneapolis declined to comment on the suit.

    The Minneapolis Police Department is also facing a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota on behalf of a Minnesota journalist, which also seeks class action status.

    Read the court filing here:

    WILLIAMS-v-CITY-OF-MINNEAPOLIS-Complaint