After a 3½-year legal battle, journalists represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota and pro bono attorneys have won a nearly $1 million settlement from the city of Minneapolis over police attacks on reporters during the George Floyd protests. The Minneapolis City Council approved the settlement Thursday. Feb. 8th.
“We must protect journalists,” said Kevin Riach, pro bono co-counsel. “Their work is critical to the health of our democracy. This settlement is an important step forward in holding the Minneapolis Police Department accountable for its unconstitutional conduct and ensuring that journalists can feel safe reporting in our city.”
Minneapolis became the epicenter of worldwide protests over police violence and an international push toward police reform following MPD’s murder of George Floyd.
“We fought for 3 ½ years to win this settlement for journalists who were attacked by Minneapolis police for simply covering the George Floyd protests. If it’s not clear to police yet, let’s say it again: Law enforcement cannot target, arrest, and attack journalists who are just doing their jobs, holding government accountable. Police must respect the First Amendment,” said ACLU-MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson.
“While this settlement is a crucial step toward protecting freedom of the press, we are troubled that the city of Minneapolis was unwilling to acknowledge any wrongdoing despite MPD's long history of excessive force," Nelson said. "There clearly is more work to be done. Journalists who are covering police brutality should never be met with more police brutality.”
The $950,000 settlement award in Jared Goyette et al. V. City of Minneapolis et al. will be divided between lead plaintiff Jared Goyette, seven other journalists attacked by police, and the Communications Workers of America.
The city and MPD did not agree to make any reforms as part of the settlement.
The settlement dates to June of 2020, when journalists represented by the ACLU-MN and our pro bono partners sued Minneapolis, MPD officials, Minnesota State Patrol leaders, and other law enforcement officials to stop this mistreatment of the media.
During the George Floyd protests – and then again during the Daunte Wright protests - law enforcement tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed and shot media members in the face with hard foam bullets, often without warning. Police arrested journalists without cause and threatened them at gunpoint — even though these journalists identified themselves as the press and were clearly reporting. Reporters who have covered wars in Iraq and Afghanistan said they had never faced treatment like that.
Lead plaintiff and journalist Jared Goyette was documenting protesters’ efforts to shield and help a seriously injured young Black man when police fired a projectile at Goyette’s face, hitting his eye and nose, then tear-gassed him. He joined the lawsuit to stop this police mistreatment of journalists, and to get information about what internal decisions led to it.
Jared Goyette – who is now reporting in Ukraine and Croatia – said:
"I do not feel a sense of victory, but rather hope that this case, alongside others and the impending consent decree between the city and the Department of Justice, will lead to a future where Minneapolis law enforcement is less likely to recklessly infringe upon First Amendment rights and assault and intimidate journalists. There remains significant work to be done in terms of policy. It is my hope that, following the implementation of the consent decree, both the city council and mayor's office will undertake a thorough examination of any remaining gaps that need to be addressed."
Ed Schwartz, who is pro bono co-counsel from Reed Smith, said: “With journalists and journalism under assault from myriad quarters today, the role of the judiciary in protecting our free press is more important than ever. The settlement, following the court’s denial of the city’s motion for summary judgment, highlights the vital role of the courts in protecting the First Amendment rights of journalists, and of every American, from attack by law enforcement and public officials who respond to the exercise of those rights with suppression and even violence.”
IMPORTANT TO KNOW:
- The Goyette freedom of the press lawsuit included several law enforcement agencies and officials. Journalists have now settled cases against all these agencies and officials except the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, which is headed for trial.
- The plaintiffs include Jared Goyette, Craig Lassig, the Communications Workers of America, Tannen Maury, Katie Nelson, Stephen Maturen, Ed Ou, Timothy Evans, and Chris Tuite.
- The legal team includes ACLU-MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson; and pro bono attorneys Karen Schanfield, Pari McGarraugh, Rachel Dougherty, and Erik Money from Fredrikson; Kevin Riach from the Law Office of Kevin Riach; Apollo Law LLC; and Ed Schwartz from Reed Smith LLP.
- In June 2020, media represented by the ACLU-MN and pro bono partners sued Minneapolis, the heads of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and Minnesota State Patrol, and other officials after law enforcement engaged in an extraordinary escalation of unlawful force that deliberately targeted journalists during the protests. https://www.aclu-mn.org/en/press-releases/aclu-mn-sues-law-enforcement-over-attacks-journalists-covering-george-floyd-protests
- In April of 2021, law enforcement attacked journalists covering the Daunte Wright protests. The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, which joined the attacks, was added to the lawsuit. The judge issued a temporary restraining order against the Minnesota State Patrol and any agencies acting with them to stop law enforcement assaults and arrests of the media. https://www.aclu-mn.org/en/press-releases/judge-issues-order-halting-police-attacks-journalists
- In February of 2022, we reached the first big settlement in the Goyette free press case with the heads of the state Department of Public Safety and Minnesota State Patrol. The settlement with MSP included $825,000 for journalist plaintiffs plus numerous policy changes to prevent future assaults. https://www.aclu-mn.org/en/press-releases/goyettesettlement
- In April 2023, journalists reached a settlement with former MPD union head Lt. Bob Kroll that keeps him off the beat for 10 years. He agreed to not serve for a decade in Hennepin, Ramsey, and Anoka Counties, or with the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training.
- The lawsuit continues against former Sheriff Hutchinson and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office. The court denied Hutchinson’s bid for qualified immunity, and he appealed to the 8th Circuit. Oral arguments are expected in that appeal this May or June.
The ACLU of Minnesota is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that fights to defend, promote, and expand the rights of all Minnesotans through litigation, lobbying and community engagement.