ACLU files lawsuit against Minnesota law enforcement for treatment of journalists at protests

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Minnesota is suing law enforcement agencies in the state on behalf of journalists who were allegedly targeted and attacked while covering protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody.

The ACLU announced Wednesday that it had filed a class action lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis and several high-ranking officials at various agencies.

“The power of the people is rooted in the ability of the free press to investigate and report news, especially at a time like this when police have brutally murdered one of our community members,” ACLU-MN legal director Teresa Nelson said in a statement. “Police are using violence and threats to undermine that power, and we cannot let that happen. Public transparency is absolutely necessary for police accountability.”

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The lead plaintiff, Jared Goyette, is a Minnesota-based freelance journalist who the group says was shot in the face with a rubber bullet while covering the demonstrations.

According to the lawsuit, Goyette was working on assignment for a national publication on May 27 when he was shot with less-lethal ballistic ammunition.

The suit states that he had told police that he was a member of the media and was standing alone when he was suddenly struck by the projectile. 

He received medical treatment for his nose and eye before returning to cover the demonstrations.

Goyette posted images of his injuries on social media.

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“Journalists aren’t the only victims,” Goyette said in a statement. “Actions like this make protesters, people trying to advocate for change, more vulnerable because journalists provide a witness and police are aware of that. Without journalists there, police or other people in power can feel a sense of impunity that no one will see what’s happening anyway. Everyone needs to know people are watching.”

Floyd, an unarmed black man, died last week while in police custody after a former Minneapolis police officer was seen kneeling on his neck during the arrest. His death caused massive protests to break out in the Minnesota city, garnering global attention.

The lawsuit cites more than a dozen other recorded incidents of Minnesota law enforcement arresting journalists covering the protests, as well as using physical force, chemical agents and threatening language and gestures.

There are six incidents cited in the lawsuit of journalists and news crews being arrested and detained despite identifying themselves as members of the press.

One high-profile arrest included is CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his news crew being arrested during a live broadcast. The crew was later released.

“This pattern and practice of conduct by law enforcement tramples on the Constitution,” the lawsuit states. “It violates the sacrosanct right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press that form the linchpin of a free society. It constitutes a pattern of unreasonable force and unlawful seizures under the Fourth Amendment. And it deprives liberty without a modicum of due process protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The suit lists the defendants as the city of Minneapolis, Minneapolis Chief of Police Medaria Arradondo, Minneapolis Police Lt. Robert Kroll, Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matthew Langer and two other unidentified individuals.

It seeks an order declaring law enforcement’s actions unconstitutional and prohibiting them from targeting and attacking journalists again, in addition to damages for injuries sustained.