Federal Judge Orders Minnesota Law Enforcement to Stop Assaulting, Harassing Journalists at Protests

BROOKLYN CENTER, MN - APRIL 16: Law enforcement officers photograph journalists who were detained near the Brooklyn Center police headquarters on April 16, 2021 in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. This is the sixth day of protests in the suburban Minneapolis city following the fatal shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright by Brooklyn …
Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

A federal judge issued an order stopping Minnesota law enforcement officials and their agents, employees, and representatives from harassing and physically assaulting journalists covering the Daunte Wright protests.

Journalists say police officers pepper-sprayed and shot them with rubber bullets, and detained, and engaged in “other acts impeding the press’s ability to observe and report about protests and law enforcement’s interaction with protestors.”

Quoting from federal court caselaw the Court noted that “the First Amendment prohibits government officials from subjecting an individual to retaliatory actions.” The Court noted that a First Amendment retaliation claim is met where the plaintiff shows that: (1) he/she was “engaged in a protected activity;” (2) the government official took adverse action “that would chill a person of ordinary firmness from continuing in the activity;” and (3) “the adverse action was motivated at least in part by the exercise of the protected activity.”

USA Today reported that journalists covering the Minneapolis suburb protest “were forced on their stomachs by law enforcement, rounded up and were only released after having their face and press credentials photographed.”

The local CBS station, WCCO-TV in Minneapolis, reported that their crew and one of their journalists “were on the ground as they were detained.”

Four journalists from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune were among the media corralled into an area where law enforcement officials took photos of their faces and media credentials. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz (D) was reported to say it “created a pretty Orwellian picture.”

Liz Sawyer, a journalist for the Minneapolis newspaper, filmed the State Patrol “process[ing]” her media colleagues.

Another journalist tweeted, “Many journalists had guns pointed at them & were harassed or arrested.” “This is a violation of our civil liberties,” she added.

ACLU-MN tweeted, “Last night, hours after the TRO took effect, the State Defendants escalated the level of assault and harassment of journalists to an intolerable degree.”

The Minnesota State Patrol (MSP) released a statement on Saturday, “troopers checked and photographed journalists and their credentials and driver’s licenses at the scene in order to expedite the identification process,” USA Today reported.  MSP admitted that “some journalists were ‘detained and released during enforcement actions after proving credentials, no journalists have been arrested.'”

Journalist Alex Kent reported that Minnesota police pepper-sprayed an international video correspondent covering the protests in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.

Earlier in the week, during protests, a journalist required medical treatment after police shot him in the hand with a rubber bullet. The bullet broke the video journalist’s finger in two places.

A State News reporter for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune tweeted:

Reinan later tweeted, “It’s hard to imagine what an intimidating sight it is to see 50 troopers in a line. Dressed in black armor, with helmets and face shields, holding long wooded clubs.”

The Star-Tribune reported that a black freelance photographer was in a vehicle with another journalist. Police officers surrounded them and used their wooden batons to beat on the vehicle’s windows. The officers pulled the other journalist out of the car and then beat Joshua Rashaad McFadden with their sticks, the news outlet stated. The Star-Tribune wrote that McFadden said he “told officers he was a journalist but that they did not believe him.”

“They’re hitting me, they’re hitting my camera as if they’re trying to break my camera lens, over and over again, telling me to get out, but I clearly couldn’t get out because now they’re blocking the doors,” the black photographer was reported to say. The officers released the media pair after the other journalist, who was white, told them McFadden was a journalist. Police detained McFadden again on Friday.

A federal court judge issued a temporary restraining order against Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and Minnesota State Patrol Colonel Matthew Langer and their agents, employees, and representatives (“State Defendants”).  The order was directed at the DPS Commissioner Harrington and State Patrol Colonel Langer in their individual and official capacities.

It enjoined the plaintiffs from “arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force” “directed against any person who they know or reasonably should know is a Journalist.” The Court expressly carved out an exception for officers who “have probable cause to believe that such individual has committed a crime.”

The federal court order also forbids law enforcement from “using chemical agents.” They may only use chemical agents to stop a journalist who “presents an imminent threat of violence or bodily harm to persons or damage to property.”

The order provides that journalists “shall not be required to disperse following the issuance of an order to disperse, and such persons shall not be subject to arrest for not dispersing following the issuance of an order to disperse.”

Officials are also enjoined from “seizing any photographic equipment, audio- or videorecording equipment, or press passes,” and may not order a journalist “to stop photographing, recording, or observing a protest, unless the State Defendants are lawfully seizing that person consistent with this Order.”

The ACLU of Minnesota (ACLU-MN) represented the plaintiffs in the motion for a temporary restraining order in the case styled Jared Goyette et al. v. City of Minneapolis et al.  The plaintiffs include The Communications Workers of America (CWA), and six journalists and photojournalists. Jared Goyette is a freelance journalist based in Minneapolis.

Lana Shadwick is a writer and legal analyst for Breitbart News. She is a trial lawyer who previously served as a prosecutor and family court associate judge in Texas.

Federal Court Order Protecting Journalists

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