Minneapolis settles lawsuit alleging journalists were harassed, hurt covering Floyd protests

The city of Minneapolis agreed Thursday to pay $950,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that journalists were subjected to police harassment and even hurt while covering protests over the police killings of George Floyd.

The suit, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota and pro bono attorneys, was one of several filed against law enforcement for alleged constitutional violations involving the use of force in 2020. Several journalists reported being struck by less-lethal munitions and being herded and detained while covering protests.

The lead plaintiff, Jared Goyette, said he was “shot in the face with less-lethal ballistic ammunition” by Minneapolis police while covering the protests as a freelancer for the Washington Post and the Guardian.

More protests erupted after Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by an officer in Brooklyn Center in April 2021. During the demonstrations, some officers could be seen spraying a chemical on protesters. And the ACLU added the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office to the suit then.

Now reporting in Ukraine and Croatia, Goyette said in a statement that he had hope that the case and other efforts would “lead to a future where Minneapolis law enforcement is less likely to recklessly infringe upon First Amendment rights and assault and intimidate journalists.”

The ACLU said in a news release that the award, which the city council approved on a 13-0 vote, will be divided among Goyette, seven other journalists and the media and communications labor union Communications Workers of America.

It’s just the latest settlement in the lawsuit. The former head of the Minneapolis police union, Bob Kroll, will not be allowed to serve as a police officer in three Minnesota counties for the next decade as part of a settlement last year. The lawsuit alleged Kroll was an “unofficial policymaker” for the police department. Kroll retired in January 2021. He did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement.

And the state of Minnesota agreed in 2022 to pay $825,000 and change several policies to settle its part in the lawsuit. That deal also prohibits the Minnesota State Patrol from attacking journalists, arresting or threatening to arrest them, ordering them to disperse, seizing their equipment and more.

But the ACLU said the city and its police department did not agree to make any reforms as part of the latest settlement.

“If it’s not clear to police yet, let’s say it again: Law enforcement cannot target, arrest, and attack journalists who are just doing their jobs, holding government accountable,” said ACLU-MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson, in a statement.

The lawsuit continues against the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and its former sheriff, Dave Hutchinson.

City spokesperson Casper Hill said the city had no comment on the litigation or settlement. The sheriff’s office, did not immediately respond to requests Thursday afternoon for comment from The Associated Press.

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