A Black security guard working for a news crew during last year's protests over the killing of George Floyd alleged in a lawsuit filed last week that he was unlawfully arrested while his white colleagues were left alone.
Michael Cooper, a 64-year-old retired Illinois State Police trooper, filed the suit Thursday against Minnesota State Patrol trooper Patrick Kelly and a Minnesota State Patrol trooper identified in the suit only as Jane Doe.
Cooper was working as a security officer for CNN's broadcast team on May 30, 2020, when a member of the news team was shot by a rubber bullet and the whole team "encountered a barrage of tear gas," the suit said.
Cooper suggested to the team that they "calmly" approach troopers, show them their press credentials and ask how to safely exit the area, the suit said. Cooper then held his Illinois State Police credentials in the air and, with a producer, approached the troopers.
Cooper repeatedly said he was press, but the troopers ignored him and told him to walk backwards, kneel, lay down and "place his arms straight out from his body with his palms facing straight up," the suit said. Cooper complied.
Kelly and other troopers then knocked Cooper's identification out of his hand and handcuffed him, the suit said. Cooper never resisted, but explained that he was a member of the press and retired law enforcement.
He was handcuffed for at least an hour and a half and then booked into the Hennepin County’s Sheriff’s Office.
Doe had said Cooper was in violation of curfew, even though he tried to explain that press was exempt. He was booked on a violation of curfew and a carrying a concealed weapon charge without a permit, even though he had a permit to carry, the suit said.
Cooper was held at the jail for 20 hours before he was released. He was never formally charged.
"Mr. Cooper was humiliated undergoing this process as a 64-year-old-man, who had dedicated over two-thirds of his life to serving the public in law enforcement," the suit said. "He has now been left to contemplate that the system he has dedicated his life to is capable of unlawfully arresting and causing resulting harm to wholly innocent men and women."
The suit noted that Cooper was the only Black member of his crew, and none of the white journalists were arrested even though they were in the same area as Cooper. He had been dispatched to provide security for the broadcast team after Omar Jimenez, a Black Latino CNN correspondent was arrested on live TV while covering the protests the day before.
"The selective arresting of Black media members was not coincidental. It was intentional and racially motivated," the lawsuit said.
“How many times will the country need to see this script play out, where a Black man is treated differently by police than other people in the same situation? Mr. Cooper’s experience while simply working while Black is, unfortunately, all too common," said attorney Christopher O’Neal of Ben Crump Law.
“The irony of Mr. Cooper’s arrest and mistreatment can’t be understated. As the city was engulfed in protests for the harsh mistreatment of a Black man by Minneapolis police, Mr. Cooper himself was mistreated by state law enforcement officers, which is both baffling and extremely disappointing,” said attorney Antonio M. Romanucci.
Cooper is seeking $500,000, the lawsuit said.
A spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said he could not comment on pending litigation, but added "we disagree with the allegations and look forward to presenting the facts in court."
Kelly did not respond to a request for comment. A preliminary report he filed after Cooper's arrest said Cooper had continued to approach law enforcement after he was given multiple commands to leave the area. The report said Cooper did not have press credentials, but did have a retired Illinois State Patrol identification card on his person.
In a subsequent report filed by Kelly, he said he was mistaken and that he never saw a retired Illinois State Patrol identification card on Cooper's person.