After being shot in the face while covering a protest, a freelance journalist and her attorney alleged a conspiracy. A judge just ruled to let the case move forward.

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The arc of history may ultimately bend toward justice, but Linda Tirado says she isn’t waiting around for the passage of time. 

“I think that, every step in the process, the judicial system has a chance to kind of nudge things toward being more right,” Tirado said in an interview following a legal victory that could have broad ramifications for police and how they treat reporters. “And I think that any time you can nudge things towards being more correct or more just, that’s a net good outcome, not only for me but for anybody who’s going to be affected by this.”

A freelance photojournalist, she says she was shot in the face last summer with a “less-lethal” round fired by a cop in Minneapolis, where, identified as press, she was covering the civil unrest that followed the police killing of George Floyd.

It left her partially blinded, in pain — the headaches persist to this day — and racking up tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills for two surgeries. In a lawsuit filed last year, Tirado alleged that she was not the victim of a mere accident, but of a conspiracy, involving city leaders, police, and recently retired union boss (and Trump rally speaker) Bob Kroll, to tolerate rank-and-file officers targeting the press.

Last August, Kroll filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint. The police chief did as well. The city filed a motion to dismiss part of the amended complaint. (The city did not dismiss Tirado’s “common-law battery claim.”)

“How am I doing? It’s pretty mixed, man,” Tirado said in an interview, eight months later. “It’s a pandemic, and I don’t have sight in my left eye.”

Tirado has slowly returned to her craft; she now specializes in extreme close-up photography, while still venturing out to cover protests from time to time. “When I’m using a camera, I find I’m able to see what I could before, and that’s been really kind of soothing,” she said.

Beyond the comfort of a routine, Tirado also has that court victory.

In a February 22 order, US Judge John R. Tunheim wrote that what happened to Tirado was not only “serious and troubling,” but seemed to be part of pattern that gestures toward a policy of institutional disregard for the US Constitution. 

“Although not every incident involved the use of foam bullets or projectiles,” Tunheim wrote, “the alleged police misconduct toward journalists occurred under similar circumstances: journalists were identifiable as press, separated from protestors and at a distance from police, and were not engaging in any threatening or unlawful conduct.”

The judge, while not in a position to issue a final judgment, did determine that Tirado’s lawyers (at the powerhouse firm Sidley Austin) had made a compelling case that the lawsuit should move forward. To dismiss it as but a single injustice from one police action would give police a de facto “window” for violating the constitution on the basis that, legally — as the city and its law enforcement argued — it is not possible to demonstrate a pervasive, formal custom of abuse based on actions that transpired over a period of just a few days.

In Minneapolis, over a half-dozen other journalists alleged abuse at the hands of police around the time of Tirado’s injury. These incidents were widely reported, her attorneys note, arguing that subsequent failure to rein in police suggests widespread complacency, if not outright support.

“There are important constitutional rights that we believe were violated,” Tai-Heng Cheng, global head of international arbitration and trade at Sidley Austin, told Insider. He took up the case not because it’s a singular injustice, but because it speaks to a broader and systemic wrong in the United States. “This case of course is important not just for Linda, but for journalists everywhere — and especially for journalists who put their lives at risk in covering civil protests in America.”

This week’s ruling means that Tirado’s legal team can now proceed with discovery, gaining access to communication between the city, the police, and their union. The goal is to demonstrate that the repeated targeting of the media was known, and hardly discouraged.

A spokesperson for the city of Minneapolis declined to comment.

Law enforcement elsewhere will likely be watching the case, and not just on the local level. In Portland, for example, Trip Jennings, who has worked with PBS and National Geographic, told Insider last June — just weeks after Tirado was shot — that he believed he was likewise targeted by law enforcement with a less-lethal round; his vision was saved by protective eyewear. 

On March 8, meanwhile, a trial will begin in another case: that of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with killing George Floyd.

“I’m going to be watching that with close attention,” Tirado said. She has friends who will be covering it and any protests that take place outside. “My concern right now is, well, I hope we all collectively learned some lessons because what we don’t need is for happened to me to ever happen again to any citizen,” she said, “but particularly a journalist who is reporting out a story.”

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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