The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a proposed class action lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis over the use of tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, arrests and other tactics against journalists clearly engaged in reporting duties amid last week’s protests.
According to the lawsuit, the defendants—who, in addition to the city, include Chief of Police Medaria Arradondo, Police Lieutenant Robert Kroll, Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, State Patrol Colonel Matthew Langer and various “John Does” alleged to have perpetrated the conduct alleged in the complaint—have been unable to curb the “extraordinary escalation of unlawful force” against reporters despitepublic apologiesfrom Governor Tim Walz and other officials.
The 42-page complaint alleges the defendants’ conduct “violates the sacrosanct right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press” and constitutes a pattern ofunreasonable forceand unlawful seizure under the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. Further, the case, filed by a freelance journalist, alleges the defendants have violated the Fourteenth Amendment in that reporters have been deprived of liberty “without a modicum of due process.”
Described in the complaint are a number of instances in which reporters from various media outlets—including MSNBC, CBS,Vice, Reuters, theMinneapolis Star Tribune, theLos Angeles Times, the Associated Press, KSTP,USA Todayand others—were on the receiving end of arrests, threatening language, pepper spray, less-lethal projectiles and physical force. Included in the documents are images that purport to show the aftermath of less-lethal projectiles, including a photo of a reporter who lost an eye after being struck in the face.
In the five days and nights after George Floyd was killed at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, thousands gathered across the city to protest and mourn Floyd’s death. As some of the protests grew in intensity, “isolated bad actors” used the gathering to cause destruction to hundreds of buildings in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, the suit states.
As news media convened upon Minneapolis to cover the public unrest, many reporters providing on-the-scene coverage were “aggressively confronted” by city and state police forces indiscriminately utilizing riot control tactics, including less-than-lethal ballistics andchemical irritants, the lawsuit says. According to the suit, numerous journalists clearly identified as members of the media sustained injuries.
After CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez was arrested on national television despite asking state police to “put us back where you want us, we are getting out of your way,” Governor Walzacknowledged publiclythat arresting members of the news media was wrong, saying “there is absolutely no reason something like this should happen,” the complaint continues.
Notwithstanding the governor’s public apology, the defendants have “continued to target and intimidate members of the news media” in an apparent effort to “chill protected First Amendment Activity,” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit goes on to say that although Governor Walz issued an executive order establishing a curfew effective May 29 and 30, members of the news media were expressly exempt from the order. Despite the absence of any system through which journalists could apply for credentials to be out past the curfew, the defendants ignored the media’s exemption from Governor Walz’s executive order and “continued to target and intimidate the press by threatening, spraying chemical irritants, and firing less-lethal ballistics” designed for riot control, the suit alleges.
The suit seeks to secure a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction barring the defendants from engaging in unconstitutional conduct targeted at journalists, among other relief. The lawsuit looks to cover a proposed class of all news media, as the term is used in Executive Order 20-69, who intend to engage in news gathering or reporting activities in Minnesota related to the protest activities that followed the death of George Floyd and the law enforcement response to those protests.
The lawsuit can be found below.
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