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2022 Attorneys of the Year: Koopman v. the City of Robbinsdale

Frank Jossi//February 16, 2023

Clockwise, from top left: Howard Bass, Clare A. Diegel, David McKinney, Teresa Nelson, Virginia R. McCalmont, Caitlinrose H. Fisher

Clockwise, from top left: Howard Bass, Clare A. Diegel, David McKinney, Teresa Nelson, Virginia R. McCalmont, Caitlinrose H. Fisher

2022 Attorneys of the Year: Koopman v. the City of Robbinsdale

Frank Jossi//February 16, 2023

In August 2018, Amy Koopman pulled over and began filming on her phone an encounter between Robbinsdale police officers brandishing guns while interrogating two black suspects during a traffic stop.

The church secretary, mother and seminary student began live-streaming on Facebook, continuing even after the police asked her to step aside while they had their guns drawn. Koopman replied that they should put their weapons away. After arresting one of the suspects, Robbinsdale charged Koopman with obstruction of justice.

After the ACLU‘s David McKinney heard about the case, he figured it would not be prosecuted. Yet Robbinsdale maintained the charge of obstruction against Koopman, which a judge eventually dismissed. Koopman spent a year waiting for the dismissal while negative social media comments mounted.

“She was exercising her fundamental First Amendment right,” McKinney said. “We didn’t want this to happen to anyone else and we wanted this police department to understand that.”

Recording police arrests is not that unusual. The death of Philando Castile was live-streamed, joining a list of recorded arrests, including the murder of George Floyd. After the court dismissed her case, Koopman brought a civil suit against the officers and the city of Robbinsdale based on First Amendment violations and a charge of malicious prosecution.

McKinney assembled a team that included Forsgren Fisher McCalmont DeMarea Tysver LLP attorneys Virginia R. McCalmont and Caitlinrose H. Fisher, as well as the ACLU’s McKinney, Teresa J. Nelson, and Clare A. Diegel; and Bass Law’s Howard Bass.

The team took the case pro bono because of the opportunity to uphold a constitutional right. “The ability to observe and to report on what’s happening with police and government is fundamental to the accountability that’s at the center of the American constitutional system,” McCalmont said.

Koopman won $70,000 and Robbinsdale agreed to institute several police reforms. McCalmont applauded Koopman’s “bravery and perseverance.”

Read more about Minnesota Lawyer’s superb class of Attorneys of the Year for 2022 here.

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