US journalist to sue for being blinded after a shot to the face during a protest

Business Insider US

Police officers block a road on the fourth day of protests on May 29, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
  • A lawsuit filed June 10 seeks compensation for journalist Linda Tirado, who was blinded in her left eye after covering a protest in Minneapolis following the killing of George Floyd.
  • The suit names the city of Minneapolis and unnamed police officers, along with others, and alleges police shot a 'non-lethal' projectile at her that hit her in the face and damaged her eye.
  • "There is some hope that I recover some vague light and shadow, but the idea of being able to restore my vision is a bit of a pipe dream," Tirado told Business Insider.
  • Tirado is represented pro bono by Tai-Heng Cheng, a partner at the high-powered corporate law firm Sidley Austin.
  • "Law firms have made commitments that 'Black Lives Matter' and now it's time for us to act," Cheng said in an interview.
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A journalist who was blinded after being shot in the face with a "non-lethal" projectile is suing the city of Minneapolis, telling Insider that she hopes the litigation will lead to better standards for law enforcement and safer protests for members of the media and others exercising their right to free speech.

Linda Tirado, a journalist who has written best-selling books and articles for The Guardian and The Daily Beast, was prepared for the worst when she drove from her home in Tennessee to Minnesota following the death of George Floyd. But she says her personal protective equipment - goggles around her eyes, credentials around her neck announcing her as "PRESS," and a professional-grade Nikon in hand - proved incapable of safeguarding her from Minneapolis police.

"I was winding up a shot - it was police cars behind tear gas," Tirado said in an interview, recounting how she had just encountered protesters running from the direction of the Minneapolis Police Department's Third Precinct. The gas created a "kind of horrific purple-orange rainbow spectrum," she said. "I was lining up that establishing shot when I felt the impact on my face. My goggles came off, so I immediately got hit with tear gas."

She also immediately started bleeding. "I just kind of closed my eyes and started yelling, 'I'm press, I'm press.'"

It was protesters, not the police, who offered her emergency medical care. "They gave me a patch for the laceration, drove me to the hospital - I was in surgery within an hour of the injury." In the hospital during the early morning hours of May 30, Tirado learned she was now permanently blind in her left eye.

"There is some hope that I recover some vague light and shadow, but the idea of being able to restore my vision is a bit of a pipe dream," Tirado said. "I've had two surgeries already. They're telling me that I'll probably need two or three more."

And that, she said, is just on the physical side of things: as the mother of two children, she's also concerned about her ability to make a living.

She's also still not sure what hit her: a tear-gas canister, or a rubber bullet - just that it was a projectile fired by local law enforcement. Nor can she say for sure whether she was intentionally fired upon - police had earlier shot a "tracer" round at her backpack and it left a streak of green identifying her as a target - or whether she was the victim of indiscriminate fire.

"I kind of go back and forth on which, morally, would be more satisfying," Tirado said. "Both of them are terrible options."

Tirado's lawsuit, filed June 10 in federal court, names as defendants the city of Minneapolis, the unnamed police officers who fired on her, and, among others, Bob Kroll, the vocally pro-Trump head of the local police union.

A spokesperson for the city of Minneapolis said it is "not commenting on the lawsuit at this time." The Minneapolis Police Department did not respond to an inquiry.

In addition to damages - reading and writing are both difficult now, cooking near-impossible without depth perception, and photography is currently out of the question - Tirado is seeking a public declaration from the defendants that the use of excessive force at protests violates the US Constitution.

Tai-Heng Cheng, Tirado's attorney, also hopes the actual process of litigating will itself shed light on police actions and aid the cause of reform.

"Through discovery, we will find out if these officers were acting on orders against the journalists," he said, or if they "had received instructions that basically allowed them to be indifferent towards [their] wellbeing."

A partner at the high-powered corporate law firm Sidley Austin, this case is far different from Cheng's usual, paid work on international arbitration. But, outraged by the killing of Floyd and the treatment of those who protested in response, he decided to take on the case pro bono, viewing it as crucial to the defense of free speech and the ability of journalists to report on social movements.

One monitor counted over 100 attacks on members of the media during the first four days of protests sparked by the Floyd killing. The day before Tirado was attacked, Minnesota state police arrested a television crew from CNN - live, on-air.

"It's crucial for the functioning of our democracy for news like this to get out, for Americans exercising their First Amendment right to be heard," Cheng said. It's also crucial, he argued, for those in corporate America to back up their asserted support for diversity and social justice with demonstrable actions.

"Law firms have made commitments that 'Black Lives Matter' and now it's time for us to act," he said. "Donating our time and expertise, pro bono, to help with legal claims is one way in which law firms can really step up."

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