SAINT PAUL, MN - A federal judge ruled Friday evening that state law enforcement cannot attack or arrest journalists for covering the current protests.
U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright granted the ACLU-MN's request for a temporary restraining order against the heads of the state Department of Public Safety, Minnesota State Patrol and their officers.
The ACLU of Minnesota filed the TRO motion in federal court on Wednesday to stop law enforcement from attacking, harassing and retaliating against reporters covering the Daunte Wright protests. Troopers this week shot journalists with rubber bullets, pepper sprayed them, and arrested or threatened them with arrest, the motion alleges. State troopers also have commanded reporters to leave the area and abandon their reporting, even though curfews in Brooklyn Center and Hennepin County specifically exempted journalists.
“In light of the events that have occurred over the last year, demonstrations and protests likely will continue as the criminal trial of Derek Chauvin concludes and an investigation into the death of Daunte Wright continues. If the press cannot document these ongoing events of public importance, Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights will be irreparably harmed,” Judge Wright wrote, going on to say that, “...Constitutional rights are not diminished during a period of ‘chaotic unrest.’”
The TRO prevents state law enforcement from taking the following actions against anyone they know or should reasonably know is a journalist:
- Arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force — including flash bangs, non-lethal projectiles and riot batons.
- Using chemical agents.
- Seizing recording or photo equipment, or press passes unless someone presents an imminent threat of violence or harm to people or property; or ordering them to stop reporting or covering the protests.
The order also makes it clear that journalists are not required to leave if law enforcement issues a dispersal order.
“The judge found evidence that state law enforcement is attacking and harassing journalists covering the Daunte Wright protests, and there’s danger of this behavior continuing with the upcoming Derek Chauvin verdict,” said ACLU-MN staff attorney Isabella Nascimento. “The troopers’ behavior is clearly intended to discourage journalists from documenting protests that are of great public importance and holding police and our government institutions accountable. Although other law enforcement agencies aren't part of the order, the judge makes it clear that this unconstitutional conduct designed to suppress free speech will not be tolerated, and we hope these other agencies will now willingly choose to change their behavior to conform with the order.”
The filing is a continuation of the lawsuit the ACLU-MN filed last summer with pro bono help from Apollo Law LLC following the police murder of George Floyd, when multiple law enforcement agencies used similar tactics.