U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Photojournalist assaulted, detained while covering Brooklyn Center protest

Incident Details

Courtesy Chris Tuite

Photojournalist Tim Evans was detained while covering an April 16, 2021, protest in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. Evans said the officer who detained him kneeled on his back and used a shield to push down on him.

— Courtesy Chris Tuite
February 8, 2024 - Update

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

Photojournalist Tim Evans 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.

Evans told the Tracker he was sprayed in the face with a chemical agent, tackled and punched by multiple law enforcement officers and detained while reporting on a protest in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center in April 2021.

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.”

The plaintiffs’ 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.

Evans declined a request for comment from the Tracker while the litigation is pending.

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 independent photojournalist Tim Evans, 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

Freelance photojournalist sues following assault while covering Brooklyn Center protest

Freelance photojournalist Tim Evans 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.

Evans was sprayed with mace, assaulted by multiple officers and detained while documenting protests in Brooklyn Center on April 16, 2021, sparked by the death of Daunte Wright.

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.

April 16, 2021

Freelance photojournalist Tim Evans told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he was assaulted by multiple law enforcement officers and detained while reporting on a protest in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, on April 16, 2021.

Evans was one of at least 10 journalists detained that night, according to reports given to the Tracker, noted on social media or published in other news outlets.

Several hundred protesters had marched to the Brooklyn Center Police Department in response to the fatal shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright, a Black man, by a white police officer during a traffic stop. Wright’s death, on April 11, occurred as a former police officer in nearby Minneapolis was on trial in the death of George Floyd, rekindling a wave of protests against racial injustice and police brutality that had started nearly a year earlier. According to state officials, a coalition of law enforcement agencies, including the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, the Minnesota State Patrol, and the Brooklyn Center Police Department, was involved in enforcement that night.

Evans, whose work has been published by the European Pressphoto Agency, the Guardian, NPR and other outlets, told the Tracker he arrived to cover the protests earlier in the evening. The demonstration was peaceful, he said, though a few people in the crowd shook the fence around the police station or threw a water bottle at law enforcement. Evans said he heard law enforcement announce an order to disperse at 9:45 p.m. Shortly after 10, he said, law enforcement moved swiftly to form a “kettle,” a crowd-control tactic in which officers block people from leaving.

As law enforcement closed in around the crowd, Evans said, dozens of Hennepin County sheriff’s deputies moved out from behind a fence that surrounded the Brooklyn Center police station, tackling people and spraying them with chemical agents “indiscriminately.”

Evans said that after he’d photographed an officer tackle someone to the ground in front of him, he’d looked to his right, toward a group of other photojournalists. When he turned to look back to his left, he said, he saw a sheriff’s deputy running directly at him. Evans said the officer, about 5 feet away, sprayed him in the face with a chemical agent he believes was mace.

Evans, who was wearing a helmet and goggles, said he dropped to his knees and held up his press credential in one hand and one of his cameras in the other; his credential, he said, is a card he made himself that features his name and photo and states “press” on the top and “photojournalist” on the bottom. In addition to his credential, he said, he had a label fixed to his backpack that identified him as “PRESS.”

Evans said that while he was still kneeling, he took a photograph of another photojournalist being confronted by a law enforcement officer. Right after taking the frame, he said, he heard someone shout, “Get on the ground!”

Evans said he then looked to his left and saw a sheriff charging at him. He said he held out his press credential and shouted to identify himself as press, but the officer proceeded to tackle him onto his back and punch him in the face. Evans said his face was largely protected because the brunt of the blow hit the padded goggles he was wearing.

The officer then ordered him to roll over onto his stomach, Evans said, and told him he was under arrest.

Evans said he complied, continuing to tell the officer he was a journalist. The officer, he said, ignored him and told him to “shut up.” While lying on his stomach, on top of his camera, Evans said he held his press credential over his shoulder. He said the officer grabbed the card, unsnapping the clasp on the lanyard, and threw the pass facedown.

“He rips it off and just, like, throws it into the ground and tells me he doesn’t give a fuck who I am, he doesn’t care if I’m media, and that I should have left when I had a chance,” Evans told the Tracker.

Evans said the officer kneeled on his back and used a shield to push down on him. At that point, Evans said, it seemed clear the officer was not going to release him because he was a journalist, so Evans said he started to try and attract the attention of other law enforcement nearby.

Evans said another officer soon came up to them and asked the deputy if Evans was being arrested. Evans said he tried to tell the new officer that he was press. The new officer told him to “shut the fuck up” and smashed the back of Evans’ helmet, thrusting his face into the dirt. Evans said he could not clearly see this officer, but he believes it was also a sheriff’s deputy.

Evans’ hands were restrained with zip-tie cuffs behind his back, he said. After a few minutes on the ground, he said, he was raised to his feet and brought to sit on a curb.

About 10 minutes later, he said, another officer, who Evans believes was a Minnesota State Patrol trooper, came by and offered to make adjustments so he would be more comfortable. He said he told her he shouldn’t be there because he was a member of the press.

The officer looked at his credential and asked him about who he worked for. Evans said she then went to speak to a lieutenant. When she returned, she said they would let him go, “as long as I agreed to leave the area, and not continue to cover,” Evans said.

“I agreed because at that point, you know, I was not in a position to make demands, I suppose,” he told the Tracker.

He said the officer cut the zip-ties and escorted him to the police perimeter, about a block away, where he was allowed to go.

Evans said he does not believe he was targeted by the first officer, who sprayed the chemical agent at him. “But everything from that point on felt targeted,” he told the Tracker.

Evans said he felt the second officer who attacked him “became more aggressive when he realized that I was a member of the media.”

Evans said the spray left him with rashes on his face, though the impact was mitigated because he was wearing personal protective equipment. His helmet and goggles also protected him from the impact of the punch and having his head shoved into the ground, he said. He said he had scratches on his hands, which he thinks were from the scuffle, but he did not require any medical attention.

The body of one of his cameras was scuffed, the screen protector was broken, and a rubber thumb grip was ripped off, he said. He said his equipment, including his lenses, is all still functional.

Evans’ detainment came hours after a federal judge had issued a temporary restraining order barring Minnesota State Patrol from arresting or using force against journalists, in response to a motion filed earlier in the week by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.

Evans wrote a declaration about his experience, which the ACLU presented with a letter to the court the following day. He told the Tracker he is planning to file a formal complaint with relevant law enforcement agencies and is considering other action.

A spokesperson for the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office told the Tracker that the department is aware of the incident and is investigating whether any of its staff were involved. He declined to comment further, pending the determination of the investigation. Minnesota State Patrol did not respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents journalists 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.

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