LA Times journalists attacked by Minnesota troopers will settle lawsuit for $1.2 million

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – MAY 29, 2020 – Minnesota State Patrol officers pepper-sprayed journalists and shot rubber bullets while they were on the job despite their exemption from Saturday’s curfew (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)
(Carolyn Cole/Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

LA Times journalists attacked by Minnesota troopers will settle lawsuit for $1.2 million

California Politics

Hannah Wiley

March 27, 2024

Two journalists who were cornered and attacked by the Minnesota State Patrol while covering protests over the killing of George Floyd for the Los Angeles Times will soon settle a lawsuit with the state for $1.2 million. The pair, one current and one former employee of the LA Times, claimed the troopers violated their First Amendment rights.

LA Times journalists sue Minnesota state troopers for assault

The settlement stems from a violent incident on May 30, 2020, when staff photographer Carolyn Cole and Molly Hennessy-Fiske, then the Times’ Houston bureau chief, were in Minneapolis to report on the community’s response to Floyd’s killing former police officer Derek Chauvin.

Minnesota’s governor had issued an executive order for a nightly curfew in Minneapolis and St. Paul, but the directive exempted law enforcement, first responders and news media.

On May 30, after the curfew took effect, the two reporters reported on a protest when, they said, state troops ordered the crowd to disperse.

Even though they were wearing credentials, carrying media equipment and identifying themselves as press, the journalists said, the troopers then cornered them and other media personnel against a wall and began firing projectiles and spraying the group with pepper spray.

Full coverage: Death of George Floyd and trial of Derek Chauvin

“Being attacked by the Minneapolis State Patrol four years ago was an experience no other journalist should have to go through,” Cole said in a statement. The photojournalist was pepper sprayed and suffered an abrasion to her eye. Hennessy-Fiske was left bloodied after being hit several times by blunt projectiles.

“I hope this ruling, which upholds our First Amendment rights, will help protect other photographers and reporters trying to do their jobs,” Cole wrote. “I appreciate the support of my colleagues and the hard work of our attorneys who fought for this positive outcome.”

The two veteran journalists have been reporting on dangerous conflicts and from war zones around the world for decades, but said they had not been attacked by police in such a way until that evening.

“During my nearly 25-year career, I have covered countless law enforcement agencies and protests in several states and beyond. This was the first time I was attacked by authorities,” wrote Hennessy-Fiske, who joined the Washington Post in 2022. in a statement.

A Times reporter says he was hit with rubber bullets by Minnesota police

The state of Minnesota and reporters are expected to sign the settlement agreement this week for a total of $1.2 million. The reporters will split $200,000, and the remaining $1 million will cover attorneys’ fees for the Minnesota law firm representing the journalists.

The attorneys agreed to represent the reporters on a contingency basis, meaning they would seek their fees from the state of Minnesota if they prevail in the lawsuit.

The state of Minnesota admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement. The Minnesota State Patrol did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Hennessy-Fiske said the troopers were “attacking not only us, but also First Amendment rights, including the right of the press to cover protests.”

“That’s why we sued them. And that’s why we prevailed,” Hennessy-Fiske said. “I hope this settlement acts as a deterrent and protects other journalists. Law-abiding reporters and photographers should never be blindsided, assaulted or injured by law enforcement as they do their jobs.”


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