MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO)— In the days following George Floyd’s death, protests and riots erupted as law enforcement struggled to regain order.
Now, the city of Minneapolis, its police chief and other state leaders face a number of lawsuits connected to the unrest. Protesters allege police targeted them. And one journalist covering the chaos lost her eyesight.
The streets of Minneapolis were fraught with emotion in the days after the death of George Floyd. Thousands made their voices heard, protesting police violence. While crowds gathered, marched and mourned, they were sometimes met with pepper spray, tear gas and non-lethal munitions.
It intensified with looting and rioting. The Minneapolis Police Department’s 3rd Precinct was taken over and burned. A curfew went into place, exempting the media, among others.
In the midst of chaos, journalists like Linda Tirado responded to cover.
“I’m a photojournalist and a writer and one of my beats has been civil unrest, urban unrest,” Tirado said.
She traveled from Tennessee to report on what was unfolding in Minneapolis, and experienced what she calls unprecedented levels of violence.
“I was hit in the face, my goggles came off. I had a laceration on my eye so it was a lot of blood, a lot of tear gas. I closed my eyes. I started yelling, ‘I’m press! I’m press!’” Tirado said.
Protesters drove her to the hospital where she underwent surgery. Tirado was left permanently blind on her left side. She filed a federal lawsuit against the city, police chief, union president, DPS commissioner and state patrol colonel.
“It was egregious. It was unnecessary. That’s the reason I brought the lawsuit. I have medical bills I do need to cover, but more importantly, I wanted to make sure this didn’t happen again,” Tirado said.
Jared Goyette signed on with an ACLU class action lawsuit.
“Journalists were being, evidence would suggest, directly targeted, or at least recklessly put in danger by police in a way that prevented us from doing our job,” Goyette said.
He took video of a person on the ground just before he says he too was shot in the face.
“I got hit right here, by whatever the police were firing,” Goyette said, pointing to his face. “I had weeks of, my eye was swollen shut. I was lucky that I did get treatment because that could have had permanent damage,” Goyette said.
His lawsuit alleges the police actions violated the 1st, 4th and 14th Amendments. And it lays out other journalists the ACLU says were tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed, shot in the face with rubber bullets, threatened at gunpoint, and arrested without cause. Goyette seeks accountability.
“I’m hoping both the mayor and the police chief take real concrete actions as opposed to just apologies that aren’t really worth much to be honest,” Goyette said.
Terri Nelson is an attorney with the ACLU, the nonprofit that fights for civil liberties, which filed lawsuits on behalf of journalists and protesters.
“People should not have to fear going out to protest police violence,” Nelson said. “We hope for systems change. We hope that police will change their practices, they will get more training and approach protests with more respect for people’s 1st Amendment rights.”
Protester Nekima Levy Armstrong says she watched as conditions deteriorated and adds there were no warnings to disperse.
“They were exaggerated, militarized responses to what were largely non-violent peaceful protesters and I just found it to be unacceptable,” Levy Armstrong said.
She said her voice hasn’t returned to normal after being tear gassed, but that this protester class action lawsuit is about something larger.
“I urge people to stand in solidarity with those of us who are filing this lawsuit to protect all of our rights to freedom of speech,” Levy Armstrong said.
Another lawsuit filed just last week also names Mayor Jacob Frey. The city attorney declined to comment.
Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Minneapolis Police Officers Federation, gave this statement to WCCO:
I have no involvement whatsoever in any of these. These are frivolous lawsuits including me purely out of spite. The city is also spiteful in refusing to indemnify me. I just reached retirement age, and was planning on retiring. Ironically the same people that want me gone so bad are now forcing me to stay.
WCCO also received a statement from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and State Patrol, saying it “will not comment on the specifics of pending litigation. That said, DPS defends and supports citizens’ constitutional right to first amendment expression when exercised in a lawful and nonviolent manner. DPS also recognizes the importance of the media in covering the civil unrest that occurred in our communities.”