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State patrol major says he believes ‘vast majority of the agency’ deleted messages related to Minneapolis protests after George Floyd’s death

By Carma Hassan, CNN

A state patrol officer said he believes the “vast majority” of the Minnesota State Patrol manually deleted emails and text messages following the George Floyd protests in Minneapolis, according to a transcript posted Friday to the federal court docket.

The transcript of Minnesota State Patrol Maj. Joseph Dwyer’s testimony from a hearing on July 28 was released as a part of a class-action lawsuit filed by the ACLU asking a Minnesota court to put a stop to what it calls “unconstitutional conduct targeting journalists” by law enforcement.

Dwyer testified he held the rank of captain and was a commander of the Mobile Response Team during the protests.

According to the transcript, ACLU attorney Kevin Riach asks Dwyer at the hearing, “And you just decided, shortly after the George Floyd protests, this would be a good time to clean out my inbox?”

“It is consistent with events, large-scale or otherwise, we periodically delete our inboxes,” Dwyer responded, according to the transcript.

“So after a large-scale event, mass unrest, it’s your practice to delete all your e-mails?” Riach asked.

“I periodically delete my e-mails,” Dwyer answered, the transcript states.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit in June 2020, saying “(t)he past week has been marked by an extraordinary escalation of unlawful force deliberately targeting reporters.” Floyd was killed May 25.

Just days before the lawsuit was filed, CNN journalist Omar Jimenez was taken into police custody during a live broadcast at the site of the protests, after clearly identifying himself to officers. His crew, including a producer and a camera operator, were also placed in handcuffs.

“We are facing a full-scale assault on the First Amendment freedom of the press,” Brian Hauss, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said in a statement when the lawsuit was filed.

Riach asks Dwyer whether he was aware the class-action lawsuit had been filed when he deleted the messages.

“You were aware that this case had been filed, though, at time the materials were deleted, correct?” Riach asked.

“I was aware that there was litigation and I retained my records in relation to a litigation hold,” Dwyer said, according to the transcipt.

“When was the litigation hold placed?” Riach asked.

“I’d have to have my memory refreshed,” Dywer said.

“That was after the purge, correct?” Riach asked.

“Again, I don’t remember the exact date,” Dwyer said, the transcript states.

Minnesota Department of Public Safety spokesperson Bruce Gordon told CNN in a statement, “The Minnesota State Patrol follows all state and agency data retention requirements. In addition, there is a litigation hold for all data related to this case. We are unable to comment further due to the ongoing litigation.”

The state patrol is a division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

The ACLU filed a post-hearing memorandum of law Friday saying “members of the press continue to need an injunction to protect them from the unconstitutional acts of State Defendants and their agents, Minnesota State Patrol Troopers.”

According to a post-hearing memorandum, the ACLU said they filed the class-action lawsuit June 2, 2020, and served the state the next day.

“State Defendants filed their opposition on June 5,” the ACLU said in their filing, adding, “(d)espite State Defendants’ duty to preserve potentially discoverable evidence triggered by the pending litigation, on or around June 7, 2020, Major Joseph Dwyer of the Minnesota State Patrol, who was at the protests and served as a commander of the Troopers’ Mobile Response Team, along with “a vast majority” of State Troopers, manually purged their emails and text messages related to the May 2020 protests.”

According to the filing, the ACLU says “the mass destruction of evidence” “was neither accidental, automated, nor routine.”

“The absence of both contemporaneous communications and documentation makes it nearly impossible to track the State Patrol’s behavior, apparently by design,” the filing says, especially because “(n)o one reviewed the purged communications before they were deleted to determine whether the materials were relevant to this litigation.”

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CNN’s Travis Nichols contributed to this report.

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