A group of journalists won an $825,000 settlement with the Minnesota State Patrol on Tuesday after the law enforcement agency attacked and injured them during protests over the police killings of George Floyd and Daunte Wright.
In addition to the settlement money, a federal judge approved a permanent injunction that will ban Minnesota State Patrol officers from attacking or arresting journalists covering protests. The Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and pro bono attorneys from three other law firms brought the case on behalf of journalist Jared Goyette, the Communications Workers of America and other journalists.
“We firmly believe in First Amendment rights and the role of a free press in protecting society and upholding our democracy,” said Pari McGarraugh, an attorney with Fredrickson & Byron. “Providing impartial information to the public about demonstrations, protests and other conflicts between law enforcement and the public is at the heart of journalism, and the right to witness and report must be protected and upheld.”
As part of the settlement agreement, Minnesota State Patrol and law enforcement acting in concert with the agency are prohibited from attacking journalists reporting on and recording protests for the next six years. The officers cannot arrest, threaten to arrest or use physical force or chemical agents against journalists; order journalists to stop photographing, recording or observing a protest; force journalists to disperse; and seize or intentionally damage equipment like photo, audio and video gear.
During the protests against police brutality and racial injustice, law enforcement engaged in heightened force specifically targeting journalists. Officers fired hard projectiles and tear gas at journalists, forced them to disperse despite curfews exempting the press, arrested members of the media and interfered with journalists’ ability to document the protests and police response.
“When authoritarian governments in other parts of the world see U.S. law enforcement targeting the press, it empowers them to act with impunity,” said video journalist Ed Ou, one of the plaintiffs who was attacked by state troopers.
“This injunction sends a message that freedom of the press is an ideal the United States continues to hold as one of its core values, and while the legal system is imperfect, I am glad there is still some semblance of accountability to address attacks like this,” he continued. “I hope this case sets the precedent that any assault of a journalist is one too many.”
Other parts of the settlement agreement include an independent review of all complaints alleging mistreatment of the press during the Floyd and Wright protests; body-worn cameras for all state troopers by June; amending the agency’s policy to consider allegations of violating press’ First Amendment rights “serious misconduct” that would trigger an investigation; requiring officers who respond to protests to prominently display their agency name and badge number; and MSP training on treatment of the media and First Amendment rights.
The lawsuit was filed in June 2020, soon after the protests in response to Floyd’s May 2020 death in Minneapolis. While the settlement resolves the case against MSP, similar allegations of police attacking press continue against the city of Minneapolis, former Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, former Minneapolis Police union head Robert Kroll and the Hennepin County sheriff.