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 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 journalist files class action suit against Minneapolis police department
Freelance journalist Jared Goyette filed a lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis and law enforcement after he was struck in the face with a projectile and subjected to tear gas.
The ACLU filed the complaint on Goyette’s behalf on June 2, 2020, 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.
On May 27, Goyette was reporting on the second night of protests spurred by the death of George Floyd while in police custody. According to the complaint, police issued no warning prior to firing a projectile that struck Goyette as he stood alone with no one else in his immediate vicinity.
Goyette told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he had wanted to step away from the area he considered dangerous. “It was at that moment that I was hit directly in the head,” Goyette said
The complaint alleges that Goyette’s injury was part of a pattern of excessive use of force and targeting of journalists amid the Minnesota protests. It therefore motioned for the lawsuit to be ruled a class action suit, citing the arrests of journalists like WCCO photojournalist Tom Aviles and CNN reporter Omar Jimenez, as well as injuries suffered by journalists including independent photojournalist Linda Tirado and MSNBC reporter Ali Velshi.
“When I was hit, I had flacks, I had a ‘PRESS’ shirt, I had a notebook, at various times I had a camera, I made a point not to run,” Goyette said. “If they were looking at who they were firing at they had every reason to know that I was a journalist.”
He added that there was no communication or directives from the police ahead of their use of crowd-control munitions, and that he believes police were targeting journalists and protesters alike.
“The past week has been marked by an extraordinary escalation of unlawful force deliberately targeting reporters,” the complaint says. “This pattern and practice of conduct by law enforcement tramples on the Constitution. It violates the sacrosanct right to freedom of speech and freedom of press that form the linchpin of a free society.”
Goyette told the Tracker that he hopes the lawsuit will put those in positions of power at the police department and city government on the stand to answer for the decisions made that day, and inform the public on who is being held accountable for those decisions.
U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright denied the motion for class certification on June 9, on the basis that it is premature to issue such a ruling before discovery has taken place.
However, Wright wrote in her decision, “Goyette has asserted extensive allegations of egregious conduct by law enforcement directed at members of the news media.” Members of the news media “deserve better” she wrote.
Freelance journalist Jared Goyette was struck in the eye with a crowd-control munition and tear gassed while documenting demonstrations in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 27, 2020.
Police were attempting to reign in a second day of protests following the death of George Floyd, a black man. Floyd died at a hospital on May 25, after an officer knelt on his neck during an arrest, ignoring Floyd's repeated exclamations that he could not breathe. A video of the arrest sparked widespread outrage, and protests began the following day in Minneapolis.
On May 26, thousands of protesters gathered outside the convenience store where Floyd had been detained and at the Minneapolis Police Department's Third Precinct. That afternoon and evening, police clad in riot gear fired tear gas, flash-bang grenades and less-lethal rounds into the crowd, and some demonstrators built barricades and set fires.
Protesters took to the streets again the following day.
On the 27th, Goyette began tweeting at 7 p.m. about a young protester who had been hit in the side of the head by a crowd-control round by police. He continued tweeting as other demonstrators attempted to carry the man to safety and eventually loaded him into a car to be taken to the hospital.
Ten minutes later, Goyette tweeted that he had been struck in the eye and then tear gassed.
Goyette, who was not immediately available for comment, posted that people had rushed to help him bandage his eye and helped him to safety when a cloud of tear gas came upon them.
“I wasn’t trying to put myself at risk. I wanted to document what was happening to the young man who seemed critically injured, and the people who were trying to keep him alive,” Goyette wrote.
Photojournalist Dymanh Chhoun of WCCO-TV tweeted that he, too, had been caught in a cloud of tear gas.
The Minneapolis Police Department did not immediately respond to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker’s request for comment.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents 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.