Minneapolis, MN – A Minnesota State Patrol official testified that the “vast majority of agency” had purged emails and text messages after the George Floyd riots as a regular “recommended practice” and the groups who are suing them are furious.
A transcript published to the federal court docket on Friday showed that Minnesota State Patrol Major Joseph Dwyer told the court on July 28 that it was “standard practice” for troopers to delete records after major events, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
The file destruction became an issue during a hearing for a lawsuit against the state patrol that was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of journalists who claimed to have been assaulted by law enforcement while covering the riots during the summer of 2020.
ACLU attorneys said the deletion of emails and texts “makes it nearly impossible to track the State Patrol’s behavior, apparently by design,” the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
“The purge was neither accidental, automated, nor routine,” ACLU attorneys wrote in a motion. “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.”
But according to Minnesota State Patrol officials, the destruction of the electronic communiques was neither illegal nor in violation of department policy, NBC News reported.
“You just decided, shortly after the George Floyd protests, this would be a good time to clean out my inbox?” ACLU attorney Kevin Riach asked Maj. Dwyer when he was on the stand.
The major answered yes and told Riach that each employee made the decision about when they wanted to delete those records, NBC News reported.
Maj. Dwyer said it was a “recommended practice” to purge after big events.
“Are you required to keep email correspondence for a certain period of time?” Riach asked.
“We are not,” Maj. Dwyer replied, according to NBC News.
But Minnesota Coalition on Government Information Spokesman Don Gemberling said that wasn’t the case.
Gemberling said that under Minnesota law, the state patrol is required to make and keep records of official activity, and files can only be deleted according to a schedule dictated by the state records retention panel, NBC News reported.
He said that Maj. Dwyer’s testimony “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,” Gemberling said, according to NBC News.
But the state patrol has held that all of its troopers followed all requirements for retaining data, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
The ACLU’s lawsuit has alleged that Minneapolis police officers and Minnesota state troopers used unnecessary and excessive force to suppress the media’s right to cover the George Floyd protests and riots.
The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, freelancer reporter Jared Goyette who was covering the riots for The Washington Post and The Guardian, has alleged he was “shot in the face with less-lethal ballistic ammunition” by Minneapolis police on May 27, 2020, NBC News reported.
The ACLU claimed in a recent court filing that Maj. Dwyer’s testimony showed that the 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,” the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
“Not one trooper has been disciplined or reprimanded for their misconduct,” the group wrote. “Instead, at the very highest levels, state defendants have turned a blind eye to the troopers’ illegal acts.”