Federal Court Tells Minnesota State Police To Stop Attacking, Harassing, And Arresting Journalists Covering Protests

from the really-shouldn't-have-to-be-told-this dept

Minneapolis, Minnesota was still on edge when a cop shot another unarmed black man. The trial of former officer Derek Chauvin is still underway. Last May, Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd for over nine minutes — including two minutes after another officer was unable to detect a pulse.

With this hovering in the air, another senseless killing by an officer set everything off. Again. 26-year-veteran officer Kim Potter (who served a year as the head of the police union) turned a “routine traffic stop” into a homicide when Daunte Wright broke free from another officer and jumped back into his car. Potter yelled “Taser! Taser! Taser!” while pointing her gun at Wright. She shot him once, which was enough to kill him. Potter’s service weapon was holstered on her right side. The Taser she supposedly thought she had in her hand was holstered on her left. The Taser was bright yellow. The gun she shot Wright with was not.

Officer Potter resigned but it didn’t change anything. She has been arrested and charged with second-degree manslaughter. Potter’s error — which seems completely inexplicable given the location, distance, color, and weight of the weapons she confused — turned Brooklyn Center, Minnesota into ground zero for more protests and riots. And the Chauvin trial continues, promising more of the same if the end result is unsatisfactory.

More of the same is also being observed by protesters and the journalists covering them. Protests around the country following the George Floyd killing were greeted by police violence. Journalists and legal observers were often targeted with the same crowd control efforts deployed against protesters and rioters. In far too many cases, officers (especially federal officers sent in to “help”) appeared to specifically target journalists for abuse, including harassment and close-range deployments of pepper spray, tear gas, and other crowd control efforts.

This targeted harassment of well protected First Amendment activity has resulted in lawsuits. So far, the government has always come out on the losing end. The same goes for Minnesota, where a judge has just approved a restraining order forbidding officers from targeting or arresting journalists. Here’s Tony Webster’s coverage of the mid-protest litigation:

A Minnesota federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order barring Minnesota state law enforcement from using force against journalists or ordering them to disperse while covering protests. The ruling does not apply to local law enforcement or the National Guard, however.


In a 22-page order, Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright cited examples of police treatment of the press over the past week, including police orders specifically directed to members of the press to vacate protest areas, and incidents of journalists being pepper sprayed, physically grabbed, or hit by projectiles.

There are limitations and it doesn’t affect every agency policing protests. But the allegations aren’t theoretical. There’s plenty of evidence cops are going after journalists specifically. A letter [PDF] sent to Governor Tim Walz and the heads of three state law enforcement agencies on behalf of multiple press outlets contains disturbing documentation of officers targeting journalists.

The letter follows the restraining order put in place by a federal judge — one that appears to have been immediately violated by officers, including those specifically told by their agency (the Minnesota State Police) to leave journalists alone.

[A]s discussed on our call, reports from journalists on the ground indicate that over the last several days—and even last night after the TRO was in effect—law enforcement officers have engaged in widespread intimidation, violence, and other misconduct directed at journalists that have interfered with their ability to report on matters of intense public interest and concern.

The letter contains a long list of violations committed by law enforcement officers who knew they were dealing with journalists.

Two separate photojournalists on assignment for The New York Times were harassed by officers. In one instance, a Minneapolis State Patrol Captain recognized the photojournalist, rushed out of a police line, and grabbed him. The officer then pulled the journalist behind the police line where another officer held his hands behind his back and took his phone. When the journalist asked “why,” the officer said: “Because that’s our strategy right now.”


Carolyn Sung, an Asian-American CNN producer, was thrown to the ground and arrested by state troopers Tuesday night while trying to comply with a dispersal order. As Sung tried to leave the area as directed, troopers grabbed Sung by her backpack and threw her to the ground, zip-tying her hands behind her back. Sung did not resist and repeatedly identified herself as a journalist working for CNN and showed her credentials.


On April 13, while in a car with others, police officers surrounded the car, banging on the windows and doors with wooden sticks and yelling to get out. The driver of the car was dragged out and arrested; another photographer in the car was taken out and talked to. The New York Times journalist was repeatedly hit by officers while in the car, and the officers also tried to break his camera.

On the night the restraining order went into effect, journalists were kettled by Hennepin County deputies. After they were released, they ran into another set of officers one block north of where they were first detained. These officers ordered them to “line up for processing,” which took the form of each journalist being ordered to produce ID, lower their face masks, and be photographed by the officers.

Then there were incidents like these, where press members, clearly marked as “press” in fluorescent “press” vests, were pepper-sprayed by an officer standing just a few feet away from them.

The Minnesota State Police issued its own orders following the approval of the restraining order. It admits its policy used to be to temporarily detain and photograph journalists. That’s no longer the case. Officers may still ask to see credentials but they’re barred from taking pictures of press members or their press passes. The rest of the MSP’s orders follow the specifications of the restraining order, which says officers will no longer be able to arrest journalists for not complying with dispersal commands while noting this is the “primary change” affecting how MSP officers “interact with the press.”

But there have been no similar pledges to respect journalists and their rights from other law enforcement agencies. Perhaps they’re all waiting to be told specifically by federal judges to stop violating rights, even though it’s clear similar actions by government agencies not named in the suit would be just as much of a violation.

This remains unsettled and journalists will continue to be targeted and attacked by law enforcement officers. And if it’s this bad now, it’s only going to get worse once the Derek Chauvin verdict is delivered. Journalists can provide crucial documentation of police activity during these protests. And it seems clear many officers would prefer this didn’t happen.

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Comments on “Federal Court Tells Minnesota State Police To Stop Attacking, Harassing, And Arresting Journalists Covering Protests”

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This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Melvin Chudwaters says:

Potter’s error — which seems completely inexplicable given the location, distance, color, and weight of the weapons she confused

It’s not "inexplicable". If we set aside for the moment any analysis of culpability, and focus merely on how human minds work… they run garbage software. They are garbage software.

Have you never dropped something because your hand just decided to let go before? If anyone’s watching, you smile and say "oops, it slipped". Then you wonder to yourself why it happened, for a moment anyway. And if you’re really insightful, maybe you kind of see how some little not-quite-conscious part of your brain decided that you needed to grab something else, that a task was spun off to have that hand do the work by first setting the current object aside, and somehow the order of all the tasks got confused, and BAM. The cup of coffee’s all over the counter. And you’re so shocked by the mess you made, maybe, that you almost forgot that you were going to grab the whatever-else-it-was.

These aren’t daily events for most of us. Childhood sees this happen often enough, probably up to the age of 10 or so, but even adults will have one or two incidents in their adult life to reflect upon.

Most of us are lucky enough that it results in a stained shirt, or an irreparably broken dish rather than a quickly-bleeding-out victim.

This is only the how though. The neurology/psychology/something-ology of the event.

Was this a crime? Should someone be punished for it? These things I leave for another discussion. But the how of it, the why of it, those are or at least should be as clear as day. And we shouldn’t shy away from that even if it makes it more difficult to consider crimes and culpability and punishment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I think you are on the right track, now add adrenaline to the mixture and I can easily see how someone could make this mistake. Yes, I said mistake. Not all mistakes end in an oops, I added to much creamer to my coffee. Should we hold her to a higher standard for making this mistake (especially with all her training), absolutely.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Melvin Chudwaters says:

Re: Re: Re:

Framing it as a "mistake" carries with it (at least in the English language) the idea that no moral transgression has occurred, and no punishment should be meted.

Especially if that is the first time the mistake has occurred, or if it happened in unusual circumstances which would make it difficult to prepare for.

I am not willing to call it a "mistake".

In truth, we are talking about a woman that only meant to use her electrical torture gun on him, rather than her "make him bleed and die" gun. If some maniac was beating a victim in the street and he slipped and instead of hitting the victim in the ribs swung and splattered his head open… one might too call that a "mistake". Certainly, the aim was other than intended. Would you let such a person off the hook?

I find it quite bizarre that anyone would make that point at all. Her confusion was one of which weapon she had pointed at him, the "only makes them die once in awhile" weapon, or the "makes them die more often" weapon. And no one seems to think that this is an unimportant distinction.

Further still, you frame it in such a way that makes it seem natural and by necessity tolerable. How could any sane person tolerate a police force doing this, even once? I made my comment hoping to spur someone to think "if this happens so often, how could we ever trust them with firearms", and instead I get an "aw shucks, an honest mistake".

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You aren’t willing to call it a ‘mistake’ to reflexively draw the wrong weapon, despite having pointed out the neurology of the situation earlier. It certainly wasn’t a "deliberate".

You ask "has a moral transgression occurred here?" If there has, it was in our choice to enforce laws through the use of force.

Some maniac beating someone is already transgressing law and morality. That they err and transgress differently is only a matter of degree.

A police officer, attempting to arrest someone, is performing an act that we, society, have deemed moral. Their intent was to do so using tools that were the least lethal to accomplish that task. You yourself pointed out how that could go wrong.

If officer had simply said, "fuck it" and shot him, that could well have been against mores. But even then, it is against mores because the officer had a less lethal option available, than for any other reason. (Some of those other reasons do include answering, "is this guy going to kill someone or not, if I let him get away?")

You complain bitterly that tasers "are electrical torture", and "only makes them die once in a while". Perhaps you are to young to remember the world before tasers and pepper spray. You might not even remember the protests against banning Chokeholds, or why there was any protest at all. If you want less "makes them die", there are two options: come up with a less fatal way of detaining someone who doesn’t want to be detained, or decline to detain those someones.

Everything involves trade-offs. Choose which are acceptable to you. And realize that you face the same problem here as Techdirt has been talking about with Content Moderation: Detaining people is being done at scale, and no answer is going to work all the time.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Detaining people rarely requires the use of "less lethal" force, yet it is used ever more often. Those "tools" are more an excuse to damage someone since it isn’t as extreme as a firearm (if the officer cares) and they don’t have to use their own fists if they don’t want to (although plenty seem to like that also).

We, as a society, are asking the fuzz to dial it back a bit. It’s not a binary.

Bad mistakes are bad, even if they are truly mistakes. People have to submit to both civil and criminal law all the time for mistakes. Excusing from the law the actual persons supposedly meant to uphold the law is the worst possible course of action. And that wasn’t a decision made by "society". A handful of guys came up with that one, and everyone else has been forced to deal with its expanding influence ever since.

So yeah, the trade-offs in moderating police should really not be this extreme. It’s always a problem at scale, but moderation isn’t exactly what has been happening at all.

As for detaining people at scale: That’s a huge part of the problem. Stop doing that, particularly in all the many unnecessary instances, and scale goes down a bit.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Potter was not some untrained beginner. She had 26 years on the force and these weapons are carefully placed. One weighs a fraction of the other. One is. A bright distinguished yellow. One is put on the hip that is harder to draw from with your dominant shooting hand. One has a different trigger pull.

You wouldnt mistake a chainsaw for a leafblower.

The mistake she made was thinking the guy would survive being shot.

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Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The mistake she made was thinking the guy would survive being shot

Do we have any reason to believe that she expected the victim to survive a shooting? Even tasing a guy driving a car is asking for a wreck. You do something like that if you intend great harm, not if you have reasonable concerns about misdemeanor FTAs.

Perhaps we can credit an after-the-shooting “Oops” given for the body cam recording as being authentic. In that case we probably have negligent homicide rather than intentional, but right now there is some cause for distrust of police in the Twin Cities area and this certainly does not help.

It is certainly difficult to believe the chief’s claim that it was an accidental discharge. Cop draws weapon which requires extra effort to reach, aims at victim, and fires. That is not so much accident as clearly demonstrated intent. And a chief who lies when we can see that he is lying is probably unreliable in other situations as well, which does not enhance public trust in law enforcement.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"Perhaps we can credit an after-the-shooting “Oops” given for the body cam recording as being authentic. In that case we probably have negligent homicide rather than intentional…"

Given what we know of US officer training in Minnesota – warrior training and a very bad influence of senior officers on proper conduct of policing – we might give Potter sufficient benefit of doubt for that.

But there’s also her being a former head of the minnesota police union which has a deservedly tarnished reputation with such "worthies" as the trumpist and white power bike gang member Bob Kroll helming the minneapolis branch.

"It is certainly difficult to believe the chief’s claim that it was an accidental discharge."

"Warrior" training. Actual soldiers are taught de-escalation, to duck and cover rather than return fire unless they have a clear evaluation of the situation, and to never draw and raise a weapon unless the opposition has already done so.
Police officers, insofar as they are trained at all in these aspects, have training best summarized in drawing and firing as quickly as possible at any potential provocation.

So yeah…from the police chief pov it might be an accidental discharge simply because from a police pov drawing and firing is something they try to make a reflex.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

"…that I actually do believe Officer Kim Potter really, genuinely intended to fire her tazer at Daunte Wright, rather than shoot him down with a pistol."

Well, when you’ve undergone actual training intended to make drawing and firing your gun an instinctive reflex I’m pretty sure you’ll be standing there with your smoking gun and the brass casing hitting the pavement just in time for you to start going "oh, fsck, no!".

Doesn’t change much. If you’ve managed to reflex-arc yourself into an instinctive gunslinger then you aren’t a suitable officer of the law any longer.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I actually do believe Officer Kim Potter really, genuinely intended to fire her tazer

If that was her intent, then we have at least depraved indifference to the risk of death. She fired at the driver of a vehicle. Assuming depraved indifference instead of intent for death is generous. When you fire at a driver to incapacitate him, you necessarily expect great harm, both to the driver and to passengers and other drivers in the area.

That is why we use “stop sticks” here. They flatten the tires, slowing the vehicle, and often avoiding really bad wrecks. And we try to block the roads first so that there are no other drivers in the area.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: mistakes

I work in the airline industry – (and putting to one side her level of culpability) – framing this as a "mistake" immediately puts the airline industry into what is generaly called error management.

Putting those lessons into play here the most obvious problem is that both the taser and the gun are generally shaped and handled in a similar way i.e. handgrip with a main body over the top and a trigger mechanism using the same holding and aiming style, in the same hand and using the same finger to activate.

So the answer is to design the tazer so that it does not resemble a gun in form or use. Various things come to mind Thumb trigger. central handgrip on a square or predominantly perpendicular retangular shape. Aming mechanism on the side rather than the top

Of course therse and other ideas would need to be tested – but the point is that a failure here should have the agencies screaming out for a) a reporting system where other "near misses" must (MUST) be reported, and an inter-agency team with thattask of reducing or eliminating these mistakes through training, design and usage

Without that – calling this one occation a "stress" mistake might be right – but misses the point of what should be done about all the other times this mistake was made ( without this lethal result) but nothing was done about it

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Police: 'Make us'

Unless there are actual penalties in place for violating court orders then the police will continue to ignore them, safe in the knowledge that the worse they’ll face is a stern finger wagging. As I have said time and time again, either bring the hammer down or don’t bother going through the motions, at this point it is beyond clear that anything short of real penalties will be ignored by police.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Police: 'Make us'

to top that off they remove there name and badge number to keep from being ID’d. so when they violate a restraining order, everyone that was there that day gets an automatic X# of days no pay suspension! then the ones that are responsible for there crimes get charged for violating the restraining order and any crimes they committed!

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

objection: your statement presupposes that journalism is a protected class that can be counterfeited ("Actual journalists").

additional: Statement also assumes journalists are licensed and registered with all relevant governing bodies

actual issue: law enforcement abuse of authority to silence any widespread discussion

attempted solution: special protections for journalists

proposal: treat the entire general population as "journalists"

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

proposal: treat the entire general population as "journalists"

I’d like this, except that by and large, journalists don’t go around skulking at the fringes of a crowd, then tossing fire-bombs and other destructive devices at buildings, people, etc. And we all know that where you find law-abiding citizens, you’ll also find asshelmets galore, don’t we.

But yes, everyone and his brother can forge a credential that will pass a quick muster. The only real solution is for "on-the-scene" journalists to submit to a photo database for cops to use while demonstrations are in progress. And even that can be finessed, though doing so will take a little more time and skill.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

apologies: detail lost due to succinctness

journalists are abused by law enforcement

law proposed to protect journalists

journalists are not and should not be a specific protected and registered class(negative example: "police")

law enforcement abuses general populace

thus: if protections are for "journalists" then apply protections to general population

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
David says:

Re: Re:

Actual journalists should get a pass, the problem is; with today’s tech anyone could have a credential for nearly anything. a few minutes with a word processing program, a color laser printer, & Bob’s you uncle.

It’s not really a matter of your credential but of what you do. If someone is clearly doing nothing except documenting what is happening, there is no reason to "disperse" them unless they are actively interfering or creating a dangerous situation.

And no, the danger of being held accountable does not count towards that.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:


Do we continue treating them as journalists while they are looting and burning, how about when they throw things at officers?

People who commit unlawful acts should be dealt with accordingly. But beating the shit out of them shouldn’t be the default response. And beating the shit out of people who aren’t committing unlawful acts shouldn’t be any kind of response.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"Do we continue treating them as journalists while they are looting and burning"

Know how we can tell that question wasn’t offered in good faith? By you moving the goalposts into the next state.

Obviously someone looting and burning isn’t protected by law. The guy filming the looters and burners, however, is fucking obviously not looting and burning.

The parallell to your rather repulsive question would be the assumption that if you stand on the same street where a school shooting takes place the cops might as well gun you down as well "as the rabid dog that you are".

"At what point do we try to restore order…"

By locking up the people actually provoking millions of people to take to the streets in protest over manifest injustice would be a good start. Every officer of the law to be involved with white power groups or other affiliations of a decidedly racist nature needs to go.
Any cop known for harrassing the guy with the camera needs to go.

"…so the people who aren’t playing can lead a normal peaceful life."

Sorry to have to tell you this, but as long as you put up with, or accept racist shitbags exercising any power within your community you don’t get to lead a normal peaceful life, because your "community" is fundamentally broken from the get-go.

You either live in a community where law enforcement protects and serves without bias or you live in a permanent state of low-intensity urban warfare.

David says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, now we have an answer to "what does it take?" in Minnesota (well, at least until the appeal). The answer in Alabama might be different.

But the real clincher from the news is actually the following:

The National Fraternal Order of Police, which represents the nation’s more than 350,000 police officers, called the trial “fair” and said “due process was served,” according to a statement released by the organization on Twitter.

“Our system of justice has worked as it should, with the prosecutors and defense presenting their evidence to the jury, which then deliberated and delivered a verdict,” the statement read. “The trial was fair and due process was served. We hope and expect that all of our fellow citizens will respect the rule of law and remain peaceful tonight and in the days to come.”

Now we’ll see whether this will stand or was the result from tweet-happy individual, but that’s actually the real sign of change.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"The jury acquitting OJ was faced with testimony from a cop who admitted planting evidence."

Which is the second shoe dropping on just why it’s so unacceptable to have cops on the force who think themselves judge, jury and executioners for whatever reason – bias or power trips alike.

They poison the well not only in getting innocent people killed or wrongfully convicted but undermine efforts to convict the actually guilty.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You’ve read enough articles about police falsifying evidence to understand why a jury would acquit OJ.

I think OJ was guilty. But if I’d been on the jury, I’d have voted to acquit too. I think he did it, but the standard for a murder conviction is reasonable doubt. I think his defense team successfully met that standard.

The defense team put the LAPD on trial. The LAPD lost. It turns out when your key piece of evidence is discovered by a cop who collects nazi memorabilia and uses the N-word, that affects its credibility.

Do I think the DNA evidence was legit? I think it probably was. And yet. And yet. Do I think it’s possible that the same PD that beat Rodney King with total impunity may have falsified evidence? Yes. Yes I do.

It’s the difference between the "reasonable doubt" standard and the "balance of probabilities" standard. And that’s exactly why OJ was found guilty in the civil suit (balance of probabilities) but not the criminal case (reasonable doubt).

I do think that, in the OJ Simpson case, a murderer went free. But I think its biggest similarity to the Derek Chauvin case is that it put a spotlight on racism and corruption by the police.

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