Constitutional Law

Journalist blinded in Minneapolis protests sues law enforcement citing First Amendment violation

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A freelance journalist who was blinded in one eye while covering recent protests in Minneapolis is suing the city and state and local law enforcement for using excessive force and violating her First Amendment rights.

In the June 10 complaint, Linda Tirado, a freelance journalist for international and national media publications, claims that she stepped in front of protesters and pointed her professional camera at a line of police officers May 29.

Even though her press credential was clearly visible and worn around her neck, officers “marked her with a ballistic tracking round.” They “shot her in her face with foam bullets,” which shattered her goggles and exposed her to tear gas.

“With blood dripping down her face, she cried out repeatedly, ‘I’m press!’, but the police ignored her,” the complaint says. “By the time protesters got her to the hospital, Ms. Tirado’s left eye was permanently destroyed.”

The Pioneer Press, Courthouse News Service and TMZ have coverage.

According to the complaint, Tirado, a resident of Tennessee, joined other journalists in Minneapolis to cover civil unrest and mass demonstrations that happened after the May 25 death of George Floyd. Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was pinned to the ground by a police officer who put his knee on Floyd’s neck until he was unresponsive and unconscious.

Even though media was exempt from a curfew that was imposed on Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, the Minneapolis Police Department and Minnesota State Patrol failed to honor that exemption, the complaint states.

Tirado told Courthouse News Service that she “had no reasonable expectation for being in any sort of trouble for being out at that hour because the press was specifically expected.”

The complaint also argues that the Minneapolis Police Department and Minnesota State Patrol deliberately violated the constitutional rights of members of the media through arrests and attacks with tear gas and projectiles.

“Until recently, few Americans could have imagined police officers shooting at journalists reporting on civil protests,” the complaint states. “The dark irony of this brutal police attack on the free press is made all the more grim because the media played a key role in bringing the horrific killing of Mr. George Floyd to the attention of all Americans.

“At issue in this case is Ms. Tirado’s irreparable injury, the protections owed to the media when journalists report on Americans exercising their free speech rights through protests, and what orders were given to the police officers who targeted Ms. Tirado and other reporters.”

According to Courthouse News Service, Tirado said the lawsuit’s purpose is to “ensure that this does not continue to happen, to bring attention to the fact that this has happened a lot around the country, that this happened in Minneapolis, and that it’s really not fair.”

She plans to donate a portion of the suit’s proceeds to communities affected by the protests.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. It names the city of Minneapolis, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, Minneapolis Police Lt. Robert Kroll, Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matthew Langer among the defendants.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Minneapolis freelancer Jared Goyette, who was also shot in the face during protests, have filed a similar federal lawsuit.

In a June 9 order, Judge Wilhelmina Wright denied class certification but acknowledged that “several members of the media were allegedly threatened or subject to unlawful arrests. Others sustained severe, permanent injuries while reporting on events of intense public concern. They deserve better.”

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