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 16, 2021, sparked by the death of Daunte Wright. He was also assaulted and threatened on April 13.
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.
Minnesota State Patrol troopers assaulted and threatened to arrest independent photojournalist Chris Tuite while he documented protests in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, on April 16, 2021, according to a letter to a judge by the ACLU of Minnesota.
Demonstrators had gathered in front of the Brooklyn Center Police Department following the killing of Daunte Wright, a Black man, who was fatally shot by a white police officer on April 11. On April 16, Minnesota District Judge Wilhelmina Wright granted a motion for a temporary restraining order barring all local law-enforcement agencies from arresting, threatening to arrest, using physical force against or seizing the equipment of journalists documenting the demonstrations.
ACLU of Minnesota’s Legal Director Teresa Nelson sent a letter to Judge Wright the following day, saying: “Last night, hours after the TRO took effect, the State Defendants escalated the level of assault and harassment of journalists to an intolerable degree.”
Tuite was listed among the journalists affected in the ACLU letter, which Tuite confirmed in an interview with the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
Tuite told the Tracker that he was taking photos of Hennepin County Sheriff’s deputies arresting freelance photojournalist Tim Evans when he was suddenly confronted by other law-enforcement officers.
“I was taking a photo of an officer kneeling on Evans’ back and that’s when I got grabbed,” Tuite said. “Someone was verbally threatening me and then an officer grabbed me from behind and told me that I was under arrest.” Tuite said that the officer pulled him hard enough to rip the neck of his shirt.
“As soon as that happened another cop came over and grabbed me by the arm and ripped me away from the first cop and told me to go north, which is what I had been trying to do anyway,” Tuite said. “I got around the corner of the apartment complex to the north and got jumped by five more officers, one put pepper spray right in my face and screamed, ‘What the fuck do you not understand? Go fucking north. This was your one free pass. Are you fucking stupid? Go now or I’ll arrest you.’”
Tuite was ultimately directed to a “media checkpoint” at a nearby gas station, where members of the press had their faces, press passes and state identifications photographed before they were permitted to leave the area.
“To get out of their kettle, we had to take off our gas masks and helmets and hand them our media passes and IDs. They took photos of our faces up close and then of our IDs and media passes,” Tuite said. “They told us nothing of what they were going to do with the photos, and they essentially brushed it off as, ‘We just want to make sure you guys are legit.’”
Tuite told the Tracker that his press pass was around his neck and he was carrying several cameras, and that he was certain the officers were aware he was a journalist as they specifically said to him, “Media: Get out of here!”
The Minnesota State Patrol didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment.
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.