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Judge: Minnesota Officers Can’t Arrest, Use Force against Reporters Covering Daunte Wright Protests

Protesters rally outside Brooklyn Center Police Department a day after Daunte Wright was shot and killed by a police officer in Brooklyn Center, Minn., April 12, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

A federal judge in Minnesota issued a temporary restraining order that prohibits law enforcement officers from arresting or using physical force against journalists covering the Daunte Wright protests. 

U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright issued the order on Friday and it will remain in effect for the next two weeks, according to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press. The ruling prevents police from using physical force or chemical agents against the media. Law enforcement also cannot take away reporters’ press passes, the order says.

The ruling is the result of a restraining order filed by an international labor union for news media workers and a freelance journalist against Minnesota Department of Public Safety commissioner John Harrington and Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matthew Langer.

Journalists claimed in court that they were “directed by law enforcement to vacate the protest area, physically grabbed, struck by less-lethal projectiles and rubber bullets, and pepper sprayed.”

While journalists were not subject to curfews, they had been required to vacate areas where dispersal orders were given. The new ruling exempts journalists from such orders.

Though the state attorney general’s office argued that dispersal orders protect journalists from harm, the judge dismissed that argument.

“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 said. “These severe injuries include bruising and at least one injury requiring surgery.”

On Friday, local media reports detailed accounts of multiple journalists being stopped, detained and sometimes pepper-sprayed by law enforcement while covering the demonstrations sparked by the police shooting of Wright, a black man.

An officer fatally shot the 20-year-old on Sunday during a traffic stop. The officer, who officials say intended to deploy a Taser when she shot Wright, has resigned and has been charged with second-degree manslaughter. 

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