The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit against the Minneapolis Police Department for violating a journalist’s First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
The ACLU filed the complaint in the United States District Court District of Minnesota on behalf of Jared Goyette, a freelance journalist who was shot in the face with “less-lethal ballistic ammunition” while attending to an injured young man during a George Floyd protest. The ACLU is seeking class-action status.
The complaint cites six incidents of arrests, 14 incidents of the use of physical force, five incidents of the use of chemical agents, and five incidents of threatening language and gestures, made by police officers against reporters, often without warning.
“These are not isolated incidents,” the lawsuit argues, but evidence of an “extraordinary escalation of unlawful force deliberately targeting reporters.”
The lawsuit attributes the police’s mistreatment of journalists to a lack of police training with respect to First Amendment protected activity. Beyond generally prohibiting officers from obstructing news media, the ACLU found no guidance in the Minneapolis Police Department manual about how officers should identify members of the media, or how to safeguard press freedoms at a protest.
“The State and Municipal Defendants’ failure to supervise and train their employees and agents with respect to First Amendment protected activity amounts to a deliberate indifference to the rights of the Class Members,” the lawsuit says.
The ACLU is asking the federal district court for a temporary restraining order barring police officers from engaging in unconstitutional conduct, and for both a preliminary and permanent injunction barring defendants from targeting journalists.
“The power of the people is rooted in the ability of the free press to investigate and report news, especially at a time like this when police have brutally murdered one of our community members,” said ACLU-MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson in a statement.
Goyette, the lead plaintiff, warned attacks on journalists would leave protests more vulnerable to police misconduct.
“Without journalists there, police or other people in power can feel a sense of impunity that no one will see what’s happening anyway. Everyone needs to know people are watching,” Goyette said in a statement.