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 journalist Mike Shum, 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.
Police officers struck freelance filmmaker and journalist Mike Shum with two projectiles while he was reporting on protests in Minneapolis on May 29, 2020 for the New York Times.
The protests were held in response to a video showing a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis on May 25. Floyd was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Protests against police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have been held across the U.S. since the end of May.
Shum and Katie G. Nelson, a freelance journalist also reporting for the New York Times, were covering the fourth night of protests in Minneapolis on May 29. The night before, protesters overran and set fire to the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct. The focus on the 29th had shifted to the Fifth Precinct, Shum told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
Video shot by Shum and Nelson shows hundreds of protesters gathered outside the station as police stand on the rooftop, ordering them to disperse. Police deploy tear gas and protesters aim laser pointers and shoot fireworks at police. The video ends with a line of police emerging through a thick cloud of either tear gas or smoke on Nicollet Avenue next to the station.
Shum said he and several other photojournalists filmed the officers as they began to fire projectiles. Protesters scattered by the tear gas were nearby, but the journalists stood together “obviously trying to get our shots,” Shum said.
Shum heard projectiles whizzing by his head before he was hit in the foot and side.
“I was trying to hold my shot realizing I could hear the whizzing by and I was like, OK, they are obviously shooting at us. And that’s when I got hit in the foot,” Shum said. “We should probably start running now.”
He said he wasn’t sure what kind of projectile hit him, though he suspected the one on his side was a ricochet given the force and angle of the impact.
The projectile that hit his foot “had more of an impact than I gave it credit for,” Shum said. His foot bruised with minor swelling. Walking was harder than normal but the injury didn’t require a doctor’s visit, he said.
Shum told the Tracker he believed the police didn’t specifically target him but were shooting indiscriminately in a general direction that included many journalists. He said he wasn’t sure which law-enforcement agency was responsible, or whether other journalists in the group were hit.
Protesters, journalists and even law-enforcement officials have had difficulty at times identifying specific officers during the protests. More than a dozen different agencies joined the law-enforcement effort in Minnesota, often wearing similar looking uniforms.
In a livestream filmed by Jeff Wagner, a reporter with CBS affiliate WCCO, the Minnesota State Patrol can be heard over loudspeaker just before 11:30 p.m. ordering people to disperse immediately. Within the next twenty minutes, several journalists were hit by police projectiles and tear gas fired by either State Patrol or Minneapolis Police, all within a block radius of where Shum was hit. Nine minutes after Wagner filmed the loudspeaker warning, he, too, was hit by a police projectile.
Minneapolis Police Department spokesman John Elder told the Tracker he couldn’t comment on Shum getting hit. He added that “every use of force by the MPD is under investigation internally.”
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety, which oversees the State Patrol, didn’t respond to the Tracker’s emailed list of questions.
Capt. Melanie Nelson, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota National Guard, told the Tracker that “the Minnesota National Guard did not employ non-lethal rounds during the civil unrest in Minneapolis, Saint Paul and surrounding communities.”
Despite the injury, Shum continued to report on the protests with Nelson. The following day, law-enforcement officers pushed him over a wall and fired on Nelson’s car in separate incidents, the journalists said.
Nelson and Shum have joined a class-action lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Minnesota against Minneapolis and Minnesota officials concerning the treatment of journalists covering the Floyd protests.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists being assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas, or having their equipment damaged while covering Black Lives Matter protests across the country. Find these incidents here.