Two Los Angeles Times journalists say Minnesota State Patrol troopers trapped them against a block wall and battered them with blunt projectiles, tear gas and chemical spray while they were reporting on unrest in Minneapolis following the killing of George Floyd.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday night, photographer Carolyn Cole and Houston Bureau Chief Molly Hennessy-Fiske say they were clearly identifiable as press when troopers assaulted them. Cole suffered a corneal abrasion and chemical burns on her eye and skin. A photo enclosed in the civil complaint shows Cole crouched in a brick corner, draped in camera equipment, doused in chemical liquid and screaming in agony. Hennessy-Fiske sustained multiple shots to the legs with projectiles, and the lawsuit also includes photos of her bruised and bleeding limb.

"Carolyn and Molly came to Minneapolis to cover a defining time in American history," said Andrew Noel, one of the Minneapolis-based attorneys representing the journalists, in a statement. "They, like many members of the free press, ended up being illegally targeted by our State's highest law-enforcement agency. It's beyond shocking to see how the First and Fourth Amendments were tossed aside by the State Troopers in this case."

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety, which oversees the State Patrol, is aware of the lawsuit but hasn't been served with it yet, said spokesman Douglas Neville. Neville said the department does not comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit adds to a growing pool of allegations that law enforcement intentionally targeted law-abiding journalists during the protests and riots that engulfed Minneapolis after the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. In the two weeks that followed, more than 40 journalists were attacked, arrested or had equipment damaged in Minneapolis, according to data from the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. The American Civil Liberties Union is suing police agencies in a class-action lawsuit saying the press was "under attack" in Minneapolis in that time period.

Cole and Hennessy-Fiske traveled to Minneapolis after Floyd's killing to cover the unrest that had become a national story. On May 30, shortly after the 8 p.m. curfew took effect, they had joined a group of other reporters at E. 31st Street and Nicollet Avenue S., near the Fifth Precinct police headquarters. Cole was wearing a flak jacket emblazoned with the word "TV" and carrying a large camera and bag. Hennessy-Fiske wore a press badge around her neck and held a notebook.

The group of reporters was standing across the street from protesters, near a block wall in the parking lot of a Metro Transit garage. The legion of Minnesota State troopers moved toward them, shrouded in blue smoke, announced a curfew had taken effect and ordered crowds to disperse.

Media was granted exemption from the curfew by Gov. Tim Walz, citing the critical need for journalists to be free to safely document the events.

Cole, Hennessy-Fiske and other reporters in the group pointed out their press gear to the troopers, but the officers continued to "advance on the press group and then started firing — spraying members of the press with pepper spray and shooting them with 40-millimeter blunt-impact projectiles," according to the civil complaint.

A trooper "intentionally" sprayed Cole in the eye, which she captured on camera, according to the lawsuit. Hennessy-Fiske was shot at least five times in the leg with projectiles and a tear-gas canister, the lawsuit says.

The heavy force sent the reporters fleeing into a block wall surrounding mechanical equipment in the parking lot, according to the lawsuit. "The press group was trapped," the lawsuit says. "They were bloodied and screaming. They were injured. They were blinded. The only way to escape the troopers was to scale the wall."

Hennessy-Fiske made it over the wall as a news crew captured her fleeing.

Cole didn't. She kept snapping pictures as she climbed on a pipe and tried to climb over, but she couldn't make it because of her heavy camera equipment. Eventually a trooper "helped" push her over. "She fell to the ground, crying, and crawled down the street — still blinded from the pepper spray — until somebody came to her aid," according to the lawsuit.

Cole recapped the attack in a Los Angeles Times story days later, describing that Hennessy-Fiske had yelled, "We're reporters!" and "Wait! Where do we go?" when the troopers approached. But the officers continued to move toward them, firing projectiles and chemical irritant. "I've been covering conflict both nationally and internationally for many years, so I know the dangers involved in these situations, especially when you get between riot police and protesters, but I wasn't expecting them to attack us directly," wrote Cole. Hennessy-Fiske was hit twice with rubber bullets. Another photographer had a bloody face.

Both reporters' injuries were treated in coming days and weeks. Cole, the photographer, flew home to Los Angeles and sought medical attention for eye and back injuries, according to the suit.

Hennessy-Fiske remained in Minneapolis and bandaged herself with hotel first aid supplies, the lawsuit says. She refrained from going out after curfew to cover the protests and riots.

The lawsuit alleges State Patrol Capt. Joseph Dwyer, Lt. Timothy Salto and several unidentified state troopers interfered with the reporters' constitutionally protected rights, and the use of force created a chilling effect for journalists documenting the newsworthy unrest. They allege multiple violations of their First and Fourteenth amendment rights, and that Dwyer and Salto failed in their duty as supervisors and created "an environment where indiscriminate use of force against demonstrators and the free press was allowed to occur without proper force reporting and without consequence."

Andy Mannix • 612-673-4036