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Minneapolis, State Patrol sued for police violence toward press

Journalist Jared Goyette was trying to document what was happening with an injured protester. Next thing he knew, he was the one injured.

Journalist Jared Goyette was trying to document what was happening with an injured protester. Next thing he knew, he was the one injured. Jared Goyette

Freelance reporter Jared Goyette was reporting near Minneapolis’s 3rd police precinct on Saturday for Univision and the Washington Post when police started firing projectiles at civilians protesting the death of George Floyd.

A young man fell, seriously injured. Goyette rushed forward to document what was happening to him, and how other protesters were trying to drag him out of harm’s way.

“Part of our job in these situations is to witness, particularly if there are abuses of power in a grand sense, but in this case, it was just a very visceral thing. There was a young man, he was hurt.”

Protesters frantically called for an ambulance that never arrived. As the minutes ticked on, Goyette stayed with the injured man, who was eventually loaded into a car.

Goyette tried to message his young daughter because he’d been out later than he said he would be. Police on horseback arrived. The next thing he knew, he was on the ground, hit in the head with some kind of police projectile.

“Just a moment of pain, shock, confusion. I didn’t know how badly I was hurt. People rushed over to help me. Someone was trying to bandage me. They were trying to reassure me. Just as someone was trying to help me up, tear gas landed where we were.”

Goyette stumbled away, one eye swollen shut, another tearing up. The next day, he got checked out by his doctor and returned to work.

Only a couple nights later, Goyette spoke to Star Tribune reporter Ryan Faircloth about his own frightening incident while attempting to report after curfew.

Since protests began in the Twin Cities, local and national reporters have been ordered out of their cars at gunpoint, shot by less-lethal rounds, tear gassed, and denied access to public streets even after showing police their press credentials.

Among other incidents:

  • Linda Tirado, a freelance photojournalist, was shot and blinded in one eye on Friday.
  • CNN’s Omar Jimenez and his video production crew were arrested on live TV after explaining their duty to document protests.
  • NBC reporter Simon Moya-Smith was arrested by Minneapolis Police while being pepper sprayed.
  • Star Tribune reporters Liz Sawyer and Chao Xiong, along with three international journalists, were told their press badges were “bullshit” and ordered to go home.
  • Star Tribune’s Chris Serres was shot in the groin with a less-lethal projectile, tear gassed, and ordered to hit the ground twice or be shot again.

At Minneapolis’s 5th police precinct Saturday night, this reporter witnessed a cameraman standing apart from the crowd – carrying a large video camera and wearing a flak jacket clearly marked “PRESS” in giant letters – get sniped near the crotch with a rubber bullet or marking round by a State Patrol officer.

At a press conference later that night, Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell apologized for the State Patrol's arresting of WCCO's Tom Aviles, saying officers may not have been able to see or hear clearly because of their riot gear and face masks.

On Sunday, the Department of Public Safety acknowledged in an email that there had been several incidents between media and State Patrol. The department suggested journalists should wear credentials around their necks that are readable from four feet away, including names and photos.

This prompted the Star Tribune Media Company to quickly print enlarged riot credentials for journalists, as most press credentials are the size of driver’s licenses.

Afterward, many local and international journalists wondered the same thing. Given that government authorities around the world attack and arrest press in order to mask their illegal actions, what had the State Patrol and Minneapolis Police been ordered to do to protesters and reporters in response to the George Floyd demonstrations? How do journalists uncover that?

One way to compel the release of information is to sue.

“The powers of discovery and a lawsuit go beyond FOIA in the sense that they can potentially access more,” said Goyette. “They would potentially force people to answer questions in front of a judge. And that can help us get more on the public record about what happened and ultimately hold people accountable for their decisions.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota filed a class-action lawsuit Tuesday night on behalf of reporters targeted by law enforcement while covering protests. The respondents include the City of Minneapolis, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, police union president Bob Kroll, Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, and State Patrol Colonel Matthew Langer.

The lawsuit demands an injunction to stop police from attacking journalists, a declaration that they violated multiple constitutional amendments, and damages.

“Law enforcement is using violence and threats to deter the media from vigorously reporting on demonstrations and the conduct of police in public places,” said ACLU-MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson.

“We depend on a free press to hold the police and government accountable for its actions, especially at a time like this when police have brutally murdered one of our community members, and we must ensure that justice is done. Our community, especially people of color, already have a hard time trusting police and government. Targeting journalists erodes that public trust even further.”