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 freelance photojournalist Chris Tuite, 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.
Freelance photojournalist sues following assault while covering Brooklyn Center protest
Freelance photojournalist Chris Tuite joined the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota’s lawsuit against officials from the Minnesota State Patrol and Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson on Sept. 28, 2021, according to an amended complaint reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
Tuite was assaulted and threatened with arrest by Minnesota State Patrol troopers while documenting protests in Brooklyn Center on April 13, 2021, sparked by the death of Daunte Wright. He was again assaulted and threatened on April 16.
The ACLU filed the initial complaint on June 2, 2020, after the death of George Floyd sparked protests across the state, naming as defendants the City of Minneapolis, 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.
Chris Tuite, a freelance photojournalist, said law enforcement officers aimed firearms at him and pulled him from a vehicle as he covered a protest in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, on April 13, 2021.
The fatal police shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center on April 11, 2021 rekindled a wave of racial-justice protests that began almost a year earlier. Wright’s death, on April 11, occurred as a former police officer in nearby Minneapolis was on trial in the death of George Floyd. Protests began outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department the day Wright was killed, and continued daily through mid-April.
Tuite told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he was at a gas station near the protests when he ran into a second photojournalist, Joshua Rashaad McFadden, who was on assignment for The New York Times. McFadden told the Tracker that police had gotten more aggressive with the crowd as the protest continued into the night, and that he heard officers order press to leave the area.
The two photographers saw a car coming toward them, McFadden said, and the driver offered to take them to where McFadden’s car was parked. Right after they got in the car, he said, a large number of officers started up the street. Police and National Guard vehicles also pulled into the area, he said.
Officers surrounded the car Tuite and McFadden were in and beat on the windows with batons and the butts of their weapons, Tuite said.
“The state police rolled up with their AR-15s, pointed them at us and then tried to knock the window in using the butt of their guns,” Tuite said.
Both photojournalists, who were in the back seat, were ordered to exit the vehicle but were unable to because the vehicle was surrounded.
“We didn’t know the driver, but they pulled the driver away, arrested him and took him away,” Tuite said. “I screamed ‘Media!’ maybe 20 times, and held my media pass up to the window.”
The officers then pulled Tuite from the vehicle, he said. After again identifying himself as a member of the press, Tuite said the officer standing nearest him finally listened.
At around the same time, two officers got into the vehicle — one into the driver’s seat and the other in the back next to him — and began hitting him with their clubs, striking him on his legs and hitting his camera.
“I saw them hitting Josh with their batons, including his camera,” Tuite said. “He’s a Black male, and they trusted me more than him. It took me saying 10 times that he was media before they got off of him.”
The Tracker has documented McFadden’s assault and damage to his equipment here.
The Minnesota State Patrol didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Officers ultimately allowed the pair to leave once Tuite offered to walk McFadden back to his car. The photjournalists crossed the street to where other members of the press were gathered, Tuite said, and documented a little more of the standoff between law enforcement and the protesters before leaving the scene.
Tuite told the Tracker that a reporter for progressive independent outlet Status Coup, Jon Farina, captured footage of law enforcement stopping cars and ordering the passengers to exit where he and McFadden were stopped, but hadn’t filmed their specific encounter.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents incidents of journalists being assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas, or who had their equipment damaged in the course of reporting. Find all incidents related to Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protests here.