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The Minnesota Department of Public Safety will pay the ACLU hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle a lawsuit brought by journalists who were injured while covering civil unrest in the Twin Cities.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit in June 2020 on behalf of independent journalists and the Communications Workers of America, after some were injured by the Minnesota State Patrol while covering the protests following the killings of George Floyd and Daunte Wright in May 2020 and April 2021. 

The lawsuit alleged the agency violated journalists' rights and accused law enforcement of deliberately targeting journalists with unlawful force. That included firing hard projectiles and tear gas at reporters, ordering them to disperse despite being exempt from curfews, arresting them, and interfering with the media's ability to observe and document the protests. 

Related [June 3, 2020]: ACLU sues Minneapolis PD over actions against journalists covering George Floyd protests

A federal judge recently approved the $825,000 settlement and a permanent injunction that prohibits the Minnesota State Patrol from attacking or arresting journalists. 

“The court’s ground-breaking injunction will hold state law enforcement accountable and require them to respect the First Amendment, rather than use violence and threats that deter the media from covering protests and police conduct,” said ACLU-MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson. “We need a free press to help us hold the police and government accountable. Without a free press, we don’t have a free society, and we can’t have justice.”

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) said it will also pay for an independent external review of all internal affairs cases related to alleged trooper mistreatment of media in May 2020 and April 2021. Among the other terms in the settlement: 

  • The State Patrol will require an internal affairs investigation of any allegation of media mistreatment misconduct 
  • The State Patrol will require immediate notification of a supervisor when a member of the media is arrested or detained
  • DPS will deploy a media ombudsman and media field liaison in mass arrest situations
  • The State Patrol will contract with an expert to provide training to troopers on interacting with the media and the First Amendment, with the initial training session open to any member of the media that would like to attend
  • The State Patrol will provide training on crowd control for all cadets and additional data retention training for all troopers

The ACLU notes the State Patrol, for the next six years, is prohibited from: 

  • Arresting, threatening to arrest or using physical force/chemical agents against journalists 
  • Ordering them to stop photographing or recording protests
  • Making journalists disperse
  • Seizing or intentionally damaging a journalist's equipment

All troopers must have a body-worn camera by June 2022, and will be required to prominently display their agency name and badge number on their person when responding to protests, the ACLU said. 

DPS noted it agreed to settle the lawsuit "without further costs and with no admission of liability by any party."

“The ability of journalists to cover civil unrest in our communities must be protected and encouraged,” DPS Commissioner John Harrington said in a statement. “The hallmarks of this agreement are transparency, accountability and excellence in policing. Our agency is committed to those principles as we work with members of the media to implement the terms of this agreement.”

The lawsuit was also filed against the City of Minneapolis, former Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, former Minneapolis Police union head Robert Kroll, and the Hennepin County Sheriff. Those lawsuits continue. The settlement only resolves the lawsuit against the Department of Public Safety/Minnesota State Patrol.

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