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Minnesota State Police officers approach a crowd of protesters
In this May 30, 2020, file photo, Minnesota State Police officers approach a crowd of protesters in Minneapolis. (AP file photo: Julio Cortez)

Bar Buzz: Covering unrest, getting the lead out, and more

The Lead

Pari McGarraugh

Pari McGarraugh

The ACLU of Minnesota’s settlement with the Department of Public Safety over mistreatment of journalists covering unrest in 2020 and 2021 will help to ensure full coverage of protests and police conduct, the civil liberties organization and attorneys assisting with the case say.

In the unrest following the police killings of George Floyd and Daunte Wright, State Patrol officers were accused of attacking journalists by beating them, firing hard projectiles at them, and spraying them with chemical irritants. They also ordered journalists to disperse even though curfews exempted the press from leaving.

Notably, CNN producer Carolyn Sung was attempting to comply with an order to disperse during protests over Wright’s death in April 2021 when she was apparently grabbed by her backpack and forced to the ground, her hands zip-tied behind her back. Although she repeatedly identified herself as a journalist, an officer allegedly continued to ask the Asian American reporter if she spoke English. Sung was placed in the local jail and held there for two hours.

This settlement will award $825,000 to journalists who were attacked and injured by the Minnesota State Patrol when covering the protests. Additionally, the federal judge approved a permanent injunction that prohibits the police from attacking or arresting journalists.

The lawsuit was filed in June 2020 and brought on behalf of journalist Jared Goyette, the Communications Workers of America, and other journalists by the ACLU of Minnesota, as well as pro bono attorneys from Fredrikson & Byron, the Law Office of Kevin Riach, and Apollo Law LLC.

Teresa Nelson

Teresa Nelson

“We firmly believe in First Amendment rights and the role of a free press in protecting society and upholding ­­­­­­­our democracy,” avowed Pari McGarraugh, a Fredrikson & Byron attorney. “Providing impartial information to the public about demonstrations, protests and other conflicts between law enforcement and the public is at the heart of journalism, and the right to witness and report must be protected and upheld.”

The court order prohibits the Minnesota State Patrol, over the next six years, from arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force or chemical agents against journalists. Police will also be prohibited from ordering journalists to stop photographing, recording or observing a protest, and seizing or intentionally damaging their equipment. Nor will the police be able to make journalists disperse.

Additionally, there will be other changes to the Minnesota State Patrol as part of the settlement. Allegations of First Amendment violations will be considered serious misconduct, which will trigger an Internal Affairs investigation and require the allegations be reported to a supervisor and the POST Board. The Patrol will receive training and treatment of the media and First Amendment Rights. The settlement also requires officers who respond to protests to display their agency name and badge number so that it is readable from 20 feet away.

“The Court’s ground-breaking injunction will hold state law enforcement accountable and require them to respect the First Amendment, rather than use violence and threats that deter the media from covering protests and police conduct,” declared ACLU-MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson. “We need a free press to help us hold the police and government accountable. Without a free press, we don’t have a free society, and we can’t have justice.”

Guns & Ammo

Minnesota House Democrats are proposing to gradually phase out the use of lead ammunition, especially in wildlife areas. Wildlife and people who accidentally ingest fragments of buckshot or bullets have gotten lead poisoning. Lead the size of a grain of rice, when ingested, will kill a bald eagle.

One bill, authored by Rep. Kelly Morrison, DFL-Deephaven, would create a buyback program through the Department of Natural Resources for lead ammunition, and also pay for vouchers for hunters to buy less toxic ammunition. The House Preventive Health Policy subcommittee heard testimony on Feb. 2. Aside from hearing from wildlife organizations, the subcommittee also heard testimony from an opponent, the National Rifle Association. Brian Gosch of the NRA argued that banning lead ammunition would cause supply chain issues for ammunition. He also asserted that lead ammunition alternatives were less lethal and could result in less ethical hunts.

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Photo of a gun

Photo: BK1Bennett/Flickr

Minnesota is one of 13 states and districts that have joined together to file an amicus brief in support of the Mexican government’s federal lawsuit where Mexico is attempting to hold major United States gun manufacturers liable for cartel violence in Mexico. The defendants include Barrett, Beretta, Century Arms, Colt, Glock, Ruger, and Smith & Wesson. In August 2021, the Mexican government filed the lawsuit, alleging that the guns caused injuries, but, importantly, that the companies are intentionally targeting their marketing at the cartels. Defendants have moved to dismiss, arguing that protection granted to them under the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act shields them from the claims. The Act shields gun companies from lawsuits where the gun manufacturers are being accused of wrongdoing simply for manufacturing or selling guns that cause harm. The other states and districts that have filed the joint amicus brief are Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Oregon.

Grants

The Great North Innocence Project has received a two-year, $310,000 grant from the Minneapolis Foundation Fund for Safe Communities. The grant will allow Minnesota’s Conviction Review Unit (CRU) to fortify efforts to free the wrongfully convicted and also prevent those wrongful convictions from occurring. The CRU is a collaboration between the Great North Innocence Project and the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office. Minnesota’s CRU was formed in 2020.

Across the United States, these units have helped initiate exonerations of nearly 500 people. The money will enable the CRU to work through its 750 applications. Those applications go through a screening process, with the strongest cases resulting in full investigations. The money will aid in paying for forensic testing, program leadership, and hiring a paralegal. Sara Jones, executive director of the Great North Innocence Project said, “The CRU extends the reach of our mission to free wrongfully convicted people by providing an avenue of relief based on more cooperative, holistic reviews of evidence. Importantly, it also helps us to make the criminal legal system better by identifying problematic patterns so we can collaboratively advocate for solutions.”

Photo of cattle

Photo: K-State Research and Extension/Flickr

Settlements

JBS SA has agreed to pay $52.5 million to settle litigation accusing meatpacking companies of price-fixing. JBA SA, along with Cargill Inc., National Beef Packing Co, and Tyson Foods, were all defendants in nationwide antitrust litigation. They had been accused of conspiring to reduce slaughter volumes. Defendants control around 80% of the U.S. fresh and frozen beef supply.

The Feb. 1 accord still requires approval by Judge John R. Tunheim.

Last month, President Joe Biden announced a plan to address lack of competition in the meat industry, pledging new rules along with $1 billion in funding to support ranchers and independent meat processors.

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pills

Photo: Stock Catalog/Flickr

On Jan. 31, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota announced a $28 million settlement stemming from class action litigation. Last year, Blue Cross filed a complaint on behalf of other third-party payers across the country, arguing that Vyera Pharmaceuticals intentionally monopolized the pharmaceutical market for Daraprim.

Daraprim cures toxoplasmosis, one of the world’s most common parasites that arises from eating undercooked contaminated meat or exposure from cat feces. Once affordable, this lifesaving drug became prohibitively expensive after generic competition was illegally limited.

The cost of each pill went from $17.50 to $750—an increase of over 4000%. The settlement is pending approval. “Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota believes that drug companies need to be held accountable for the uncontrollable rise of prescription drug costs. We look forward to finalizing this settlement in the courts so that funds may be distributed appropriately to impacted members of the class,” said Dana Erickson, president and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

 

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