WCCO photojournalist shot with rubber bullet, arrested in Minneapolis

May 30, 2020

WCCO photojournalist Tom Aviles was shot with a projectile and later arrested while covering the fifth night of protests in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 30, 2020.

Multiple days of protests in Minneapolis and across the nation were sparked by a video showing a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, during an arrest on May 25. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital. Thousands gathered around the convenience store where Floyd had been detained and at the police department’s Third Precinct building in the days that followed.

At approximately 8:45 p.m., Aviles was reporting at the intersection of Nicollet and E. Franklin avenues with WCCO producer Joan Gilbertson. In a video captured by Aviles, he is positioned to the side of their news vehicle when a line of Minnesota State Patrol troopers advanced down the street firing crowd control ammunition.

In the video, a shot is heard firing just before Aviles shouts in pain and the camera shakes. Aviles then moves off the street and into a nearby alley way and parking lot.

As Aviles repositions to film the advancing troopers, one officer breaks out from the line and approaches him, shouting “Get moving! Get gone! Go!”

Aviles can be heard identifying himself as a WCCO photojournalist and asks the trooper where he should move. He also identifies the vehicle that has moved down the road as belonging to the station.

OK, OK, OK!” Aviles says as two additional officers make their way toward him. He begins to turn around and walk away from the officers and into the parking lot

“Joan! Joan! Get over here!” Aviles shouts to producer Gilbertson, who was presumably still in the car.

An officer then approaches Aviles from behind and tells him he’s under arrest, forcing him to the ground. Aviles complies and multiple times assures the officer that he’s not fighting.

Gilbertson told WCCO that a patrolman told her, “You’ve been warned, or the same thing will happen to you.”

She said she put her hands up and said, “Don’t shoot me, don’t shoot me.”

Aviles was released approximately two hours later, WCCO reported.

WCCO could not immediately be reached for comment.

At a news conference late that evening, Minnesota Commissioner of Corrections Paul Schnell said Aviles’ arrest was “regrettable,” CBS News reported. He added that it is difficult to identify journalists amidst the challenges of crowds, smoke devices and police tactics.

“We value and know the importance [of journalists],” Schnell said.

The Minnesota State Patrol was not immediately available for comment.

Multiple other reporters were arrested in Minneapolis that day, and a three-man CNN news crew was arrested by state troopers the day before, on May 29.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting damage of equipment and multiple journalists arrested or struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas while covering related protests across the country. Find all of these cases here.

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

July 22, 2020 Update

Minneapolis City spokesperson Casper Hill told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker the City Attorney’s office was tasked around July 22, 2020, with dropping non-criminal charges stemming from the protests in Minneapolis, Minnesota, since late May.

Protests broke out in Minneapolis and across the nation following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest on May 25. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

WCCO photojournalist Tom Aviles was among those arrested while covering protests on May 30. Aviles was tackled to the ground by Minnesota State Patrol troopers and held in law enforcement custody for two hours

The Tracker has been unable to verify what, if any, charges were filed against Aviles. Most protesters and journalists arrested during demonstrations in Minneapolis were charged with violating curfew or unlawful assembly. Spokesperson Hill confirmed that the City is only moving forward with prosecution on cases that have additional charges, such as fleeing from police, weapons possession or property damage.

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