Police in Minnesota round up journalists covering protest, force them on the ground and take pictures of their faces
Journalists covering a protest in a Minneapolis suburb Friday night were forced on their stomachs by law enforcement, rounded up and were only released after having their face and press credentials photographed.
The incident occurred hours after a judge issued a temporary order barring the Minnesota State Patrol from using physical force or chemical agents against journalists, according to court documents. It also barred police from seizing photographic, audio or video recording equipment, or press passes.
Minnesota State Patrol on Saturday said in a statement, “troopers checked and photographed journalists and their credentials and driver’s licenses at the scene in order to expedite the identification process.”
While some journalists were “detained and released during enforcement actions after providing credentials, no journalists have been arrested,” MSP said.
Demonstrators gathered to protest the death of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, where the 20-year-old Black man was fatally shot by a white police officer during a traffic stop Sunday.
Approximately 500 protesters were marching peacefully until around 9 p.m. when an incident triggered police to start using chemical irritants such as tear gas, pepper balls and projectiles, Jasper Colt, a photojournalist with the USA TODAY Network, reported.
After about 30 minutes, law enforcement told protesters to the leave the area in a loudspeaker announcement calling the demonstration an unlawful assembly. The crowd thinned out, and a small number of protesters and media were left.
“A lot of journalists like myself were slow to leave the area,” Colt said. “We didn’t think we needed to, and we wanted to cover what was happening.”
Colt described police then corralling protesters and media into one group and yelling for them to get “flat on our stomachs.”
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Law enforcement quickly identified media and escorted them to a line where they were asked for credentials and identification. Law enforcement took pictures of journalists’ credentials and IDs as well as photos of the journalists’ faces.
“They were the ones with the guns, so we were like, ‘OK, well, we have to do this,’” Colt said.
Colt said Minnesota state and local police were involved in the incident. The loudspeaker announcements came from the sheriff’s department, he said.
The court order was part of an ongoing case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union after journalists say they were targeted during protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, who was killed by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin last year.
The Minnesota State Patrol issued guidance to its troopers and other law enforcement agencies, MSP said in its statement. The guidance highlights the orders in the temporary restraining order prohibiting MSP from enforcing general dispersal orders against the press.
MSP is also prohibited from “arresting, threatening to arrest, or threatening/using physical force” against members of the press.
“MSP will not photograph journalists or their credentials,” the agency said in a statement. “However, troopers will continue to check credentials so media will not be detained any longer than is necessary. In addition, MSP will no longer include messaging at the scene advising media where they can go to safely cover events.”
The ACLU said Friday evening’s incident was a direct violation of the temporary order.
“The emergency order requires law enforcement to take certain steps to protect journalists… the order requires law enforcement to leave them alone,” said Adam Hansen, an attorney with Apollo Law LLC, who is working on the civil case with ACLU-Minnesota. “We absolutely see what happened last night as a violation of the court’s order and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that it doesn’t continue tonight and on into the future.”
Maribel Perez Wadsworth, president of USA TODAY Network and publisher of USA TODAY, issued a statement condemning the actions of police in Brooklyn Center.
“We condemn the actions of the police in Brooklyn Center in the strongest possible terms,” Wadsworth said. “Requiring journalists to lie prone on the ground and photographing their credentials are purposeful intimidation tactics. To be clear, we will not be intimidated or deterred in fulfilling our First Amendment right and responsibility to hold power to account in our reporting.”
Tim Evans, a freelance photojournalist who covered protests for the European Pressphoto Agency earlier this week, said officers tackled him to the ground, punched him in the face and sprayed him with a chemical irritant while he identified himself as media.
He said he showed the police his press badge and he had a press sticker that covered his backpack, where an officer knelt to zip-tie Evans hands behind his back. He also had one camera around his neck and another slung on his shoulder when he was tackled, he said.
The officer took Evans’ press badge, threw it on the ground and said he didn’t care if Evans was media, Evans said.
If it weren’t for his protective gear – goggles, respiratory mask and helmet – Evans said he would have been badly injured.
“It’s egregious, it’s horrific,” he said. “We are nothing as a society, as a democracy, without a free press and it’s constantly being challenged and constantly being abused.”
Evans also witnessed police spray two photojournalists from the Agence-France Presse with a chemical irritant. Photos of their confrontation with police have gone viral on Twitter.
In its statement, the Minnesota State Patrol encouraged journalists to contact the Department of Public Safety’s Internal Affairs/Affirmative Action division “to file a complaint if they believe a trooper has engaged in misconduct.”
“The MSP has not and will not target media for doing the important work of showing those who are exercising their first amendment rights to express themselves, or those who are engaged in the violent, illegal activity law enforcement is trying to prevent,” the agency said.
Mayor Mike Elliott said at a news conference Wednesday “gassing is not a human way of policing” and he didn’t agree with police using pepper spray, tear gas and paintballs against demonstrators.
Protests have continued since former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter was charged Wednesday with second-degree manslaughter. The former police chief in the majority nonwhite suburb said Potter fired her pistol when she meant to use her Taser, but protesters and Wright’s family say there’s no excuse for the shooting. Both Potter and the chief resigned Tuesday.
Contributing: Associated Press. Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Brooklyn Center protests: Police round up journalists