Helicopter Footage From Mass Arrest Reveals State Trooper Surveillance Capabilities, Tactics, and Communications

Minneapolis, MN – High-tech surveillance video and audio communication from a Minnesota State Patrol helicopter, obtained and first published by Unicorn Riot, reveals some of the planning and tactics behind the largest mass arrest in recent Minnesota history. On Nov. 4, 2020, a multi-agency law enforcement operation kettled and arrested at least 646 people during a post-election-day protest calling for then-President Donald Trump to not ‘steal the vote.’

In an exclusive release, viewers are taken inside Minnesota State Patrol’s Bell 407 helicopter, N119SP, to see and hear the operations of authorities as around 700 peaceful protesters marched onto Interstate 94 in Minneapolis. Watch a condensed video highlighting the chopper’s camera capabilities alongside the audio communications below, and the full hour-long video further down in the article.

High-Tech Surveillance Cameras & Audio Comms

The hour-long video obtained by Unicorn Riot records from when the protest marched onto the interstate until the authorities had the large crowd effectively boxed in, and stops at the hour mark. This is our third exclusive release of videos from State Patrol and Minneapolis Police during and after the mass arrest on Nov. 4, 2020.

The State Patrol has two helicopters that are frequently providing aerial surveillance above the Twin Cities metro for a wide variety of reasons. Whether to assist police in tracking suspects, follow traffic patterns and accidents, or providing surveillance of protests, the abilities of the state’s aircraft is powerful. Publishing this video will help the public understand what the helicopters are doing, and more specifically, what N119SP is doing, while above protests.

The video zooms in and out and provides different perspectives. Because the protest was at night and it was dark out, the video mostly stays in infrared mode (IR) (showing heat emanating from people, vehicles, and buildings). At time to get more clarity, the video switches between other high-tech surveillance modes including high definition zoom video and a ‘blend’ mode which combines both image types for an increasingly revealing composite.

The chopper used their overhead spotlight to shine down on the protesters and surrounding area. Someone identified as trooper nine ran the comms from N119SP and provided several warnings to officers on the ground about random events that occurred.

Radio scanner audio traffic is heard alongside the video and features law enforcement communications to and from troopers on the scene, revealing details into their planning in relation to the large protest.

Troopers are heard giving and relaying orders of where to block off roads and exits to detour traffic from the protest and ordering Mobile Response Teams [MRT] and Special Response Teams [SRT] to the area. MRTs are units of troopers that respond to civil unrest. SRTs are units of troopers providing tactical SWAT operations.

Eight minutes into the recording, troopers radioed that they were set to let the protesters off the freeway, “at some point we will have to give those dispersal orders and give them a exit.”

Just three minutes later at 7:51 p.m., they reversed that decision, saying, “car 25 to all MRT units, there will be no dispersal orders. Ah, we’re just gonna take ‘em on the freeway breach.”

About twenty minutes into the video, a trooper can be heard calling for “all available trooper resources,” and saying “they should be geared up when they get down here. In their personal protective gear.”

Not long after being kettled, some protesters started to escape the police by running up the interstate embankment and scaling a fence. Trooper nine saw this, zoomed in with the camera and relayed over the radio, “people at the back of the group are starting to jump the fence and exit the freeway onto 9th Street.”

The fence jumping continued and other troopers chimed in to ask if they had “any leeway to push” the protesters toward a different location to prevent escapes. Minneapolis Police officers were lined near the fences along with a unit of Mounted Police not long after.

Press began to gather on the roof of a nearby apartment building to document the massive police operation.

Upon seeing this, trooper nine illuminated the roof with the chopper spotlight and radioed, “you’ve now got people on the top of the building south of 9th Street, overlooking the crowds.” They continued to track the building even after the subjects left the roof.

Towards the end of the video, a green laser was pointed at the helicopter, to which trooper nine responded by asking over the radio “did you log, yet another, green laser strike from the group?”

Other troopers are then heard telling arresting officers to check all the belongings of the arrestees. Trooper nine chimed in again moments later, “if you come across the guy with the green laser, let’s take him with the gross misdemeanor.”

Watch the full unedited one-hour video below and see the condensed version above.

Authorities ended up arresting and charging then-19-year-old college student, Amina McCaskill. Prosecutors charged her with felony, second-degree riot armed with a dangerous weapon, the weapon being the laser.

Many months later, McCaskill’s charges were dropped. McCaskill’s case was comparable to Louis Hunter’s charge in 2016 after Philando Castile was fatally shot by police and thousands of protesters shut down I-94 in St. Paul. A riot on I-94 left dozens injured and over 100 arrested. Like McCaskill, Hunter was the single protester charged with a felony. Both Hunter and McCaskill are Black.

This is the third exclusive release of government videos from the two day span of Nov. 4 and Nov. 5, 2020. The first exclusive release was of video from the State Patrol’s spy plane Cirrus SR22, N115SP, hovering over a protest the day after the mass arrest, on Nov. 5, 2020.

The second release was of body camera footage from a unit of Minneapolis Police denigrating their own central command community engagement officer as they were on an overpass of I-94 on Nov. 4. Another release featuring over 32 hours of body camera footage from officers on the ground during the mass arrest is to be released soon.


Background on the 646+ and Related Coverage

Nearly 1,000 people converged on the West Bank of Minneapolis for the Nov. 4, 2020, protest entitled The People’s Mandate. From families with children, to the less abled and elders, a litany of community members showed up to the organized march the night after a tumultuous presidential election. The family-friendly protest started with a rally with speakers and then a short march which planned to get on the interstate at Cedar Ave. and get off at the next exit, 25th Ave. and Riverside Ave.

However, law enforcement agencies who amassed with hundreds of officers wouldn’t allow the group to exit. Coming off the summer of the George Floyd Uprising, police tactics became more aggressive and sometimes violent.

Once the crowd was on on I-94, authorities used the opportunity to practice inter-agency communication and tactics for the then-upcoming Operation Safety Net, a convergence of local, state, and military forces working together to occupy sections of the Twin Cities metropolitan area during the murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin which started in March 2021.

Moreover, the night before the mass arrest, Minneapolis Police violently arrested over a dozen people who were participating in an election night mobile dance party in Uptown Minneapolis. Playing music, about 50 people danced through the streets, putting up barricades and spray painting political messaging on boarded-up businesses. Watch Unicorn Riot video from the dance party and arrests here.

After the large crowd entered I-94 on Nov. 4, many were shocked to see that the authorities had surrounded and effectively ‘kettled’ them. Once boxed in, the detainment and processing operation took over five hours for the authorities to complete. Authorities shut down large sections of both I-94W and I-94E for the most of the operation.

Unicorn Riot was live from the frontline of the protest and police lines for six and a half hours during the night of the protest-turned-mass arrest. Watch the YouTube stream below.

The day after the mass arrest, organizers held a press conference outside of the Minnesota Governor’s Residence to decry the police actions and demand all charges be dropped. It was this presser in which we first published the capabilities of the State Patrol’s spy planes as we published exclusive video from their Cirrus CR22 aircraft. Unicorn Riot live streamed the presser and interviewed several organizers afterwards. Watch in full in the YouTube video below.

During the one-year anniversary after the mass arrest, five of the arrestees, an organizer of the protest Jess Sundin, emcee of the protest David Gilbert Pederson, street medic Cory Maria Dack, protester Brandyn Tulloch and drummer Grunt Mezera, spoke to Unicorn Riot about their experiences being arrested. See our full report, Reportbacks From the 646+, Detained During Minnesota’s Largest Mass Arrest and watch the interviews below.

Jess Sundin, organizer with Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar who co-hosted ‘The People’s Mandate’ protest on November 4, 2020, one of the 646+ arrested

David Gilbert Pederson, emcee of the ‘The People’s Mandate’ protest on November 4, 2020, one of the 646+ arrested

Cory Maria Dack, one of 11 street medics with North Star Health Collective arrested during ‘The People’s Mandate’ protest on November 4, 2020

Brandyn Tulloch, an artist and participant arrested during ‘The People’s Mandate’ protest on November 4, 2020

Grunt Mezera, activist and drummer arrested during ‘The People’s Mandate’ protest on November 4, 2020

Another exclusive release of over 32 hours of body camera footage from Minneapolis Police officers on the ground during the mass arrest on Nov. 4, 2020, is upcoming in the future.


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