Six journalists are trying to take state and city police officials to task after being shot with less-lethal projectiles, gassed, arrested, and otherwise mistreated while trying to do their jobs during the Minneapolis uprising following George Floyd’s murder.
They include freelancer Jared Goyette, who was shot in the face by a ballistic bullet on May 27 while he was trying to talk to an injured protester, and photographer Lisa Tirado, who lost an eye two days later, when police fired foam bullets into a crowd.
They’re filing a class-action suit with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union – perhaps the first lawsuit accusing a city of blocking the constitutionally mandated right to a free press. The ACLU says this is just the first of many cases they intend to take up on behalf of journalists hurt covering nationwide protests after Floyd’s death.
As of this week, some defendants have addressed these allegations. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety and Minnesota State Patrol are contending that they should be dropped from the lawsuit. They filed a motion to dismiss on Monday, as reported by Bloomberg.
The agencies' argument is based on the doctrine of qualified immunity, which states or state officials can use to argue that they are not liable unless the plaintiff can produce a strong case that an individual, acting in accordance to the law, violated their “clearly established” constitutional rights.
Meanwhile, the city of Minneapolis and its police chief, Medaria Arradondo, have opted to answer rather than dismiss the allegations. They too assert they have qualified immunity, but also say that the journalists contributed to what happened to them at the protests.
According to court documents, journalists should have understood they might be injured in the line of duty and taken better precautions to prevent or mitigate the damage.
“Plaintiffs’ injuries or damages, if any, were caused, contributed to, or brought about by Plaintiffs’ own intentional, negligent, unlawful, and/or illegal acts or the acts of others over whom City Defendants exercise no right or dominion or control for whose actions City Defendants are not legally responsible,” the city’s answer says.
It also says the plaintiffs “suffered no irreparable harm,” and therefore are not entitled to injunctive relief, and that the "alleged use of force, if any," was legal under state law governing police officers.
Goyette says he was trying to document a protester’s injury, staying with the injured young man until he could be bundled into someone’s car. He was looking at his phone, trying to message his young daughter that he was going to be a little late, when he wound up on the ground.
Star Tribune reporters Liz Sawyer and Chao Xiong, along with three international journalists, were told that their press passes were “bullshit” and ordered to go home. Another Strib reporter, Chris Serres, was shot in the groin, tear gassed, and ordered to hit the dirt or be shot again.
Besides seeking redress, some of these journalists are also seeking answers. They want to uncover documentation on how police were ordered to treat protesters and reporters. Sometimes lawsuits are more effective at uncovering information than Freedom of Information Requests.
“They would potentially force people to answer questions in front of a judge,” Goyette told City Pages in a previous interview. “And that can help us get more on the public record about what happened and ultimately hold people accountable for their decisions.”