Journalists win $825,000 and reforms in lawsuit brought by Minnesota ACLU, CWA, NewsGuild

A federal judge has approved a settlement that prohibits Minnesota State Patrol from attacking or arresting journalists and awards $825,000 to several who were assaulted and injured while covering protests over the police killings of George Floyd and Daunte Wright in 2020.

The lawsuit was initiated by the Minnesota ACLU against Minnesota and Minneapolis law enforcement agencies on behalf of journalist Jared Goyette, the CWA, The NewsGuild and other journalists. About two dozen NewsGuild-CWA members were injured or detained during the unrest. However, they were not plaintiffs in the lawsuit and will not receive any of the monetary award.

The suit accused the law enforcement agencies of deliberately targeting, assaulting, and arresting journalists as they covered the protests. Allegations of violations of 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. 

“This is a major win for journalists and the First Amendment,” said NewsGuild President Jon Schleuss. “Journalists should not be assaulted or arrested by police for simply doing their jobs. I commend the journalists and the ACLU for speaking up, taking a stand, and fighting for our First Amendment rights.” 

“Journalists hold power to account and defend our democracy,” he added.

ACLU-MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson said, “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. 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 proscriptions. For the next six years, the state patrol and law enforcement acting in concert with the state patrol are prohibited from attacking journalists who are reporting on and recording protests. Under the court order, the state patrol 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 the state patrol 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
  • State patrol training on treatment of the media and First Amendment rights

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.”

Photo at top: From a tweet by NewsGuild member and Star Tribune reporter Chris Serres, May 31, 2020.