Journalist Blinded in One Eye During Protest Sues Minneapolis Police Chief

Police in riot gear walk through a cloud of blue smoke as they advance on protesters near the Minneapolis 5th Precinct on May 30. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — A journalist who was left permanently blind in one eye after she was hit with a projectile during recent protests in Minneapolis claims in a federal lawsuit Wednesday that the city and law enforcement officials used excessive force and violated her First Amendment rights. 

Linda Tirado, a resident of Tennessee who is an author and contributor to publications such as The Guardian and The Daily Beast, came to Minneapolis on May 28 to cover protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police Department custody, according to her suit filed in the U.S. District Court for Minnesota.

As she prepared to take a photo of the police line on the first night of a curfew May 29, with press credentials in plain view, Tirado took a projectile to the face after her backpack was hit with a tracking round, according to the complaint. 

It shattered her goggles and exposed her to tear gas, leaving her stranded and bleeding until protesters were able to bring her to medics. She was eventually transported to a hospital, where she underwent surgery. Doctors informed her afterward that she was permanently blind in her left eye.

Police made no effort to give her aid, the complaint states. The curfew order specifically allowed members of the press to be out and about to report on the protests and law enforcement action.

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

Tirado’s complaint also alleges that police may have been deliberately targeting the press, citing earlier incidents in which the Minneapolis Police Department appeared to do so and a letter from Police Officers Federation President Lt. Bob Kroll to his union’s rank-and-file disparaging the media.

“Whatever one’s view of police conduct in relation to the protestors, and of protestors’ actions, there can be no doubt that under the United States Constitution and the First Amendment, the police must not shoot journalists reporting on civil protests,” states the complaint, filed by John Baker of the Minneapolis firm Greene Espel.

Tirado’s complaint names as defendants the city of Minneapolis, Kroll, police chief Medaria Arradondo, Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, and Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matthew Langer, along with four John Does.

“The Governor himself recognized that the people of Minneapolis who were exercising their First Amendment rights to protest could rightfully assume that, ‘if they see a reporter being arrested … it’s because something’s going to happen that they don’t want to be seen. And so that is unacceptable,’” the complaint states. “Law enforcement must face repercussions for blinding the very people they are supposed to protect.”

Tirado said that the primary purpose of the suit, beyond gaining compensation for her lost eye, is to make a point, “not only that shooting people in the face is bad,” but that the press should not fear retaliation from police. 

“My goal here 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 said. 

After her medical bills are paid, she said, she hopes to donate a portion of proceeds from the suit to communities affected by the fallout of the last two weeks’ protests and riots.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright, a Barack Obama appointee, denied class certification in a similar lawsuit brought by freelancer Jared Goyette and the American Civil Liberties Union. Goyette was also shot in the face with less-lethal ammunition, and cited Tirado’s lost eye and several other injuries to reporters in his complaint.

In an order which found that it was too early to certify a class, Wright wrote that “Goyette has asserted extensive allegations of egregious conduct by law enforcement directed at members of the news media. 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.”

The judge also acknowledged that law enforcement were working under difficult conditions, but added that “notwithstanding, there remain allegations of conduct that no civilized society would condone, even in an uncivilized time.”

Tirado is the only person known to have lost an eye — a worst case-scenario for many forms of less-lethal ammunition — in the Minnesota protests but protesters across the country have suffered similar injuries. Brandon Saenz, 26, told the Dallas Morning News last week that he had to have metal plates put in his head and lost the use of his left eye after being hit with less-lethal ammunition during protests in that city. In Fort Wayne, Indiana, television editor Balin Brake lost his eye after attending protests while off-duty. He was struck in the head with a tear gas canister.

Tirado is asking the court to declare that defendants’ alleged use of excessive force is unconstitutional and is seeking punitive damages and damages compensating her for her injuries.

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