U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

NBC producer, group of journalists targeted in assault by state patrol

Incident Details

Screenshot via Ed Ou/Twitter

A video posted to Twitter by journalist Ed Ou shows Minnesota State Patrol troopers coming upon Ou and a group of journalists and spraying them with tear gas and pepper spray during protests on May 30 in Minneapolis.

— Screenshot via Ed Ou/Twitter
February 8, 2024 - Update

Journalists get nearly $1M settlement over Minneapolis BLM protest attacks

Ed Ou and multiple other journalists assaulted or arrested by law enforcement during Black Lives Matter protests in 2020–21 will receive a $950,000 settlement from the City of Minneapolis. The city council approved the agreement on Feb. 8, 2024.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota had filed the class-action suit in June 2020 on behalf of lead plaintiff Jared Goyette against the city and various members of law enforcement, including officials at the Minneapolis Police Department and the Minnesota State Patrol.

Over the following year and a half, the Communications Workers of America union and eight other journalists joined the suit; one later withdrew. The union will receive a portion of the settlement award.

Journalists who covered the protests in Minnesota over the police killings of George Floyd in 2020 and Daunte Wright in 2021 reported being violently attacked by law enforcement at the demonstrations, including with rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas.

Ou was documenting a May 2020 protest in Minneapolis when state troopers fired tear gas, pepper spray and concussion grenades at him, injuring his head and damaging his equipment.

The plaintiffs reached an earlier settlement with the Minnesota State Patrol in February 2022, winning $825,000 and a permanent injunction barring state troopers from arresting or assaulting journalists.

Separately, the city and police department are bound by a consent decree with the Department of Justice, which reported in June 2023 that its multiyear investigation into the MPD had exposed a number of civil rights violations.

In the latest settlement, however, neither the city nor the police department agreed to any policy changes.

“While this settlement is a crucial step toward protecting freedom of the press, we are troubled that the city of Minneapolis was unwilling to acknowledge any wrongdoing despite MPD’s long history of excessive force,” said Teresa Nelson, legal director for the ACLU of Minnesota. “There clearly is more work to be done. Journalists who are covering police brutality should never be met with more police brutality.”

Ou did not respond to a request for comment from the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

The journalists’ suit against a former sheriff and the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office continues, according to the ACLU, which said oral arguments are expected this May or June in an appeal over the sheriff’s bid for qualified immunity.

February 8, 2022 - Update

Journalists reach settlement agreement with Minnesota State Patrol, rest of suit ongoing

Journalists represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota reached a settlement with the Minnesota State Patrol on Feb. 8, 2022. In addition to an award of $825,000, the agreement includes a permanent injunction barring MSP troopers from arresting or assaulting journalists.

The ACLU filed the class-action lawsuit in June 2020 on behalf of freelance journalist Jared Goyette. The Communications Workers of America — the largest journalist union in the country — and eight other journalists, including NBC journalist and producer Ed Ou, were added as plaintiffs over the next year and a half.

According to the ACLU, the settlement agreement includes a 6-year injunction prohibiting:

  • Arresting, threatening to arrest, and/or using physical force or chemical agents against journalists;
  • Ordering journalists to stop photographing, recording or observing a protest;
  • Making journalists disperse; and
  • Seizing or intentionally damaging equipment such as photo, audio or video gear.

The settlement also includes amending MSP policy so that allegations of aggressions against the press are considered “serious misconduct,” triggering an Internal Affairs investigation, and that independent experts review all complaints alleging mistreatment of journalists during Black Lives Matter protests from 2020 to 2021.

“The Court’s ground-breaking injunction will hold state law enforcement accountable and require them to respect the First Amendment, rather than use violence and threats that deter the media from covering protests and police conduct,” ACLU-MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson said in a statement released by the organization. “We need a free press to help us hold the police and government accountable. Without a free press, we don’t have a free society, and we can’t have justice.”

The settlement resolved the complaints against MSP; the allegations against the City of Minneapolis, former Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, former Minneapolis Police union head Robert Kroll and the Hennepin County Sheriff are still ongoing.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documented 97 assaults and 41 arrests of journalists in Minnesota while covering protests sparked by the police killings of George Floyd and Daunte Wright. At least 12 journalists also had their equipment damaged. Find all of these cases here.

September 28, 2021 - Update

NBC journalist sues following arrest while covering Minneapolis protest

NBC journalist and producer Ed Ou joined the ACLU of Minnesota’s lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis and law enforcement following his assault on Sept. 28, 2021, according to an amended complaint reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

Ou was struck in the head with and targeted with pepper spray on May 30, 2020, while documenting protests sparked by the death of George Floyd.

The ACLU filed the initial complaint on June 2, naming as defendants the city, Police Officers Federation President Lt. Robert Kroll, police chief Medaria Arradondo, Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matthew Langer, as well as two John Does.

May 30, 2020

Minnesota State Patrol fired tear gas, pepper spray, and concussion grenades at NBC journalist and producer Ed Ou and a group of other journalists in Minneapolis on May 30, 2020, Ou told the Committee to Protect Journalists via phone.

The journalists were covering ongoing protests in the city sparked by the alleged police killing of George Floyd, a black man, on May 25.

Ou told CPJ that the journalists were standing apart from the protesters in an indented section of a brick wall when troopers assaulted them. Ou said that he held up his press badge and screamed “Press!” but the patrol continued the assault.

"We were very explicit about saying we were press and we were nowhere close to any protesters or anyone else," Ou told CPJ. "They kept on throwing concussion grenades at us. They came up to us and maced me or pepper sprayed me on my camera and my face."

Ou, who was videotaping the protest, told CPJ that he was hit in the head. He said he couldn’t see the weapon or projectile as his eyes were blurred by tear gas and pepper spray. He said he stumbled past law enforcement officers asking for help, but none provided assistance. Eventually, a colleague found him, he said.

Ou told CPJ he later went to a hospital and received four stitches in his head.

Ou said that troopers damaged his equipment in the assault. He said the XLR connector between his microphone and camera was damaged, one of his lens filters was cracked, and a UV filter is no longer usable. He said that he can no longer safely use his microphone because pepper spray reached the microphone through the windsock. His gas mask, he added, is now unusable even with a new filter because of the large amount of pepper spray that entered it.

CPJ emailed Minnesota State Patrol for comment but did not receive an immediate reply. It also called the patrol’s press center but was unable to leave a message because the voicemail box was full.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting damage of equipment and multiple journalists arrested or struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas while covering related protests across the country. Find all of these cases here.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].