Judge: Law enforcement can’t order journalists to leave Daunte Wright protests

Minnesota law enforcement officers may not arrest or use force or chemical agents against news media covering protests in the wake of Daunte Wright’s killing, according to a temporary restraining order issued Friday night by a federal judge.

During protests this week in Brooklyn Center, law enforcement has exempted news reporters from nightly curfews but not from orders to leave the protest area.

U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright wrote Friday that dispersal orders must be more narrowly tailored so that reporters can cover the protests.

According to the order, for the next two weeks, law enforcement may not:

  • Use physical force, including non-lethal projectiles, against news media;
  • use chemical agents against news media;
  • or seize camera equipment or press passes from journalists.

The judge encourages journalists to carry a press pass, badge or other credential that clearly identifies them as journalists protected by the order.

State law enforcement leaders are to provide officers with copies of the order within 24 hours.

The order does not apply to any journalists believed to have committed a crime.

Lawyers with the state attorney general’s office opposed the order, arguing that including reporters in dispersal orders keeps the journalists safe. The judge was not persuaded.

“This argument is unavailing, particularly when considering the allegations, supported by declarations, that members of the press have sustained severe injuries at the hands of law enforcement in recent days,” Wright wrote. “These severe injuries include bruising and at least one injury requiring surgery.”

The ruling came in an ongoing case brought last year by the ACLU and freelance journalist Jared Goyette, who alleged law enforcement was deliberately injuring journalists covering protests after the death of George Floyd during a Minneapolis arrest.

Multiple reporters told the court that they have been targeted again this week, “directed by law enforcement to vacate the protest area, physically grabbed, struck by less-lethal projectiles and rubber bullets, and pepper sprayed.”

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