MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- A federal judge has approved a permanent injunction that will prohibit Minnesota State Patrol from attacking or arresting journalists, as part of a settlement agreement between journalists and the Minnesota State Patrol.
The settlement awards $825,000 to journalists attacked and injured by MSP while covering protests over the police killings of George Floyd and Daunte Wright. The ACLU-MN and pro bono attorneys from Fredrikson & Byron, the Law Office of Kevin Riach, and Apollo Law LLC 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 Fredrikson & 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.”
“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,” said ACLU-MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson. “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 includes a number of important changes. For the next year six years, MSP and law enforcement acting in concert with MSP are prohibited from attacking journalists who are reporting on and recording protests. Under the court order, MSP is prohibited from:
- 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.
- Seizing or intentionally damaging equipment such as photo, audio or video gear.
Other parts of the settlement include:
- Independent expert review of all complaints alleging mistreatment of the media during the George Floyd and Daunte Wright protest period.
- Issuing body-worn cameras to all troopers by June 2022.
- Amending MSP policy so that allegations of press First Amendment violations are considered “serious misconduct,” triggering an Internal Affairs investigation, and requiring the allegations to be reported to a supervisor and the POST Board.
- Requiring officers who respond to protests to prominently display their agency name and badge number readable from 20 feet away.
- MSP training on treatment of the media and First Amendment rights.
“We are grateful that the State Patrol worked with us to craft an agreement that provides for meaningful change at the agency and breathes life into the Constitutional guarantees of free speech and freedom of the press that protect journalists operating in Minnesota,” said attorney Kevin Riach. “This agreement is an important first step in ensuring that the media can do its job here without fear of arrest or violent reprisal from law enforcement, just as the Constitution provides.”
During the protests, law enforcement engaged in an extraordinary escalation of unlawful force deliberately targeting journalists. Officers fired hard projectiles and tear gas at journalists, ordered them to disperse even though curfews exempted the press from leaving, arrested them, and interfered with the media’s ability to observe and document the protests and the law enforcement response during the George Floyd and Daunte Wright protests.
“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 plaintiff and award-winning video journalist Ed Ou, 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. I hope this case sets the precedent that any assault of a journalist is one too many.”
The suit was filed in June of 2020, shortly after the George Floyd protests. The settlement only resolves the case against MSP. The allegations of law enforcement violating journalists’ rights continue against the City of Minneapolis, former Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, former Minneapolis Police union head Robert Kroll, and the Hennepin County Sheriff.
Attorneys include: Teresa Nelson and Isabella Nascimento from the ACLU-MN; and pro bono attorneys Kevin Riach, the Law Office of Kevin Riach; Dulce Foster, Karen Schanfield, Pari McGarraugh, Emily McAdam, Marielos Cabrera and Leslie Anderson from Fredrikson & Byron P.A.; and Adam Hansen and Colin Reeves, Apollo Law LLC.
Learn more about the case at https://www.aclu-mn.org/en/cases/jared-goyette-et-al-v-city-minneapolis-et-al.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that promotes, protects, and extends the civil liberties and civil rights of all Minnesotans through litigation, lobbying, and community engagement.