U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

WCCO journalist hit by projectile while covering protests in Minneapolis

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 29, 2020

Assault

Was the journalist targeted?
Unknown
May 29, 2020

Jeff Wagner, a reporter and anchor for WCCO, a CBS affiliate station based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was livestreaming protest coverage as he was hit by a police projectile on May 29, 2020.

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.

Wagner was 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. But the focus on the 29th had shifted to the Fifth Precinct.

In a livestream video filmed by Wagner, the Minnesota State Patrol can be heard over loudspeaker just before 11:30 p.m. ordering people to disperse immediately. About 10 minutes after Wagner filmed the loudspeaker warning, he was hit by a police projectile.

Wagner did not respond to requests for comment, and a message left on the WCCO general line was not answered.

In the livestream, Wagner reports that State Patrol troopers were advancing north on Nicollet Avenue, shooting projectiles at protesters who’d been throwing objects and launching fireworks at the police. He stands separate from the action in a mostly empty parking lot on the side of the street.

A lone officer can be seen stepping into the parking lot and appears to hit one individual trying to retrieve a bike. Wagner asks if the person is all right, just as he, too, is hit. Wagner grunts as his phone tumbles to the ground.

Wagner says in the livestream that he is all right despite the projectile feeling like the “the hardest punch to my forearm I’ve ever had.” But he says he recognized the risk of reporting close to the action.

“I had my hand up. I got my news badge,” Wagner says as he flashes the badge on the video. “It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter in that moment. I looked like anybody else.”

The livestream video does not clearly show the officer who shot the projectile at Wagner. Protesters, journalists and even law enforcement officials have had difficulty at times identifying specific officers during the protests. More than a dozen agencies joined the law enforcement effort in Minnesota in late May, often wearing similar-looking uniforms.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety, which oversees the State Patrol, didn’t respond to the Tracker’s emailed list of questions.

Several other journalists were hit by police projectiles and tear gas fired by either State Patrol or Minneapolis Police that evening, as documented by the Tracker.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas, or had their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country. Find these incidents here.

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