Minnesota State Patrol officers conduct a “mass purge” of emails and texts after their response to the George Floyd protests last summer, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports.
State Patrol Maj. Joseph Dwyer, testifying at a hearing in a lawsuit accusing the agency of targeting journalists during the protests, acknowledged that the “vast majority of the agency” deleted the messages.
The lawsuit, filed last June, alleges that the State Patrol and Minneapolis Police Department used unnecessary and excessive force to suppress journalists’ First Amendment rights. It is one of numerous lawsuits against law enforcement over use of force.
The lead plaintiff, Washington Post and Guardian freelancer Jared Goyette, was shot in the face by a “less-lethal ballistic ammunition” on May 27, according to the lawsuit. Several Star-Tribune reporters were also the target of misconduct.
Along with the lawsuit, the Justice Department and Minneapolis have their own investigations into the use of force during the protests.
Did officers follow protocol?:
Dwyer said at the hearing that officers were not acting on orders to delete messages but said it was “standard practice” for them to do so. He said it was “recommended practice” to delete messages and that the agency is not required to keep emails for a certain period of time.
But Minnesota data law says the agency must keep records of official activity, including texts and emails, and can only delete them under a schedule approved by an independent panel, Don Gemberling of the Minnesota Coalition for Government Information told the Star-Tribune.
Dwyer’s comment "doesn't strike me as being consistent with what the statute is trying to accomplish, which is to make sure there's a record of why government does what it does."
"What they've done raises a whole lot of questions," he added.
ACLU cries foul:
"The purge was neither accidental, automated, nor routine," ACLU attorneys said in a court motion asking a judge to order the agency to stop attacking journalists at protests. "The purge did not happen because of a file destruction or retention policy. No one reviewed the purged communications before they were deleted to determine whether the materials were relevant to this litigation."
The ACLU filing also said the testimony at the hearing showed that State Patrol "concocted false reports to justify the arrest, assault and use of less-lethal weapons against journalists" and "ignored the governor's order exempting journalists from curfew restrictions."
"Not one trooper has been disciplined or reprimanded for their misconduct," the filing said. "Instead, at the very highest levels, state defendants have turned a blind eye to the troopers' illegal acts."