CNN reporter Omar Jimenez was arrested on live TV while covering a George Floyd protest in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Police in Minnesota have violated journalists’ constitutional rights as law enforcement officers pepper sprayed, fired rubber bullets at or otherwise attacked, injured or arrested members of the press covering recent protests, a class-action lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges.
The federal lawsuit, filed by two Minneapolis law firms and the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota on behalf of a freelance journalist, alleges that a pattern of attacks on journalists carried out by the Minneapolis Police Department and the Minnesota State Patrol “tramples on the Constitution.”
“It violates the sacrosanct right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press
that form the linchpin of a free society,” the lawsuit says. Reporters’ rights to due process and against unreasonable force and unlawful seizures were also violated, the suit says.
Jared Goyette, the named plaintiff in the suit, is a freelance journalist who says Minneapolis police shot him in the face with a less-lethal ballistic ammunition as he tried to document injuries sustained by a protester last Wednesday. Goyette’s nose and eyes were injured, and he left the scene to seek medical treatment, the lawsuit says. He also experienced “intimidating and obstructive behavior” by police in the days after he returned to covering the protests.
The lawsuit documents multiple cases of other journalists covering the protest in Minneapolis who have faced arrest, physical force, chemical agents and threats.
The suit alleges Minneapolis police and Minnesota State Patrol violated journalists’ First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights in their actions.
The Minneapolis Police Department and Minnesota State Patrol did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.
“We are facing a full-scale assault on the First Amendment freedom of the press,” said Brian Hauss, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “We will not let these official abuses go unanswered.”
Protests have spread around the U.S. in the past week after the killing of George Floyd, a black man who was pinned to the ground May 25 by a white Minneapolis police officer who held his knee to Floyd’s neck as Floyd told the officer he could not breathe.
Two autopsies, one by a county medical examiner and the other commissioned by the Floyd family, have ruled Floyd’s death a homicide.
In some cities, peaceful protests have turned violent into the early morning hours with looting and fires, and police have used physical force with riot shields, batons and chemical agents to disperse crowds. In some cases, police used force on peaceful demonstrations.
Journalists covering Minneapolis’ unrest were not alone as dozens of reporters across the country have had cameras slapped from their hands, projectiles fired at their bodies and tear gas fill their lungs.
According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the majority of attacks on journalists have been at the hands of law enforcement officials, though some have come from protesters. The group has tracked 211 press freedom violations amid recent protests, including more than 33 arrests, 143 assaults and 35 instances of damage to equipment as of Tuesday.
Some of the attacks on journalists by law enforcement have appeared targeted as reporters have shown their press badges and announced they are part of the news media.
Hauss said the ACLU plans to file lawsuits across the country. “Law enforcement officers who target journalists will be held accountable,” he said.
In Minneapolis, one of the most high-profile instances occurred on live TV when CNN’s Omar Jimenez and other crew members were arrested Friday morning as they covered scenes of law enforcement in Minneapolis clearing the streets.
Jimenez identified himself as a journalist, with a full camera crew filming him as he showed his press badge. He asked the state troopers where they would like him to be before they arrested him. Jimenez and his crew were later released, and Gov. Tim Walz apologized.
The night before, Tyler J. Davis, a Des Moines Register reporter covering the protests for the USA TODAY Network, saw police using chemical irritants to subdue protesters. He pulled out his camera to record what was happening, and an officer began spraying him.
“He laid on the trigger for a few seconds as I told him I was a member of the media,” Davis wrote in an op-ed describing his experiences in Minneapolis.
“I thought I was OK – maybe just grazed by the irritant. But after roughly three minutes my eyes and face began burning intensely and I walked north along Hennepin away from the scene. I could hardly see,” he added.
“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,” ACLU-MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson said. “Police are using violence and threats to undermine that power, and we cannot let that happen. Public transparency is absolutely necessary for police accountability.”
Elsewhere, other USA TODAY Network reporters in Asbury Park, N.J., Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Des Moines were arrested or detained.
‘This is unacceptable’: Our journalists are being attacked while doing their jobs
Journalists in Louisville, Detroit, Madison, Wisconsin, and Fayetteville, North Carolina, were among others in the USA TODAY Network who were pepper sprayed or attacked, some resulting in hospitalization.
In Washington, D.C., reporters were in the crowd near Lafayette Square documenting the group of peaceful protesters whom police cleared Monday night with tear gas and flash-bang grenades before the city’s curfew took effect. President Donald Trump later posed for a photo with a bible outside St. John’s Church, where the demonstrators had gathered.
Attacks on journalists by police or others have occurred in other cities including New York, Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio.
Contributing: Lorenzo Reyes
Follow USA TODAY’s Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller
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