Minneapolis Man Acquitted Of Charges After Mistakenly Shooting At Cops Sues Officers For Violating His Rights
from the but-for-the-cops'-own-video dept
It’s not often a citizen shoots at a cop and lives to tell about it. It’s even rarer when they walk away from criminal charges. When it’s considered “assault” to be anywhere in the general location of an angry cop, actual shots fired tend to be greeted with severe charges. Acquittals are unicorns in the court system, which largely tends to believe people who shoot at cops always have zero justification for their actions.
One black Minnesota resident has bucked the odds. Jaleel Stallings was arrested after he fired his gun three times at Minneapolis police officers during protests following the murder of George Floyd by Officer Derek Chauvin. Without further facts, one would assume Stallings was part of the problem, a violent protester willing to kill or injure police officers.
But the facts are in. And they are ugly. Stalling, represented by Eric Rice, was able to secure an acquittal thanks to some extremely damning body camera footage recorded by the officers he shot at. The footage was captured by officers in an unmarked van that were driving into areas “enforcing” curfew by shooting rubber bullets at random people on the street from the moving vehicle. That recording can be viewed here.
Deena Winter has an amazing write up of the recording’s contents at Minnesota Reformer. It shows cops aggressively targeting people doing nothing more than violating a curfew order. The officers in the unmarked van trolled Lake Street, looking for victims to absorb their violent policing, apparently in retaliation for having to endure ongoing protests triggered by other violent actions by other violent cops.
Here’s just a taste of what the recording contains:
Before the white, unmarked cargo van of the Minneapolis Police Department drove down Lake Street, an officer gave Sgt. Andrew Bittell his orders: “Drive down Lake Street. You see a group, call it out. OK great! F*** ’em up, gas ’em, f*** ’em up.”
Bittell turned to his SWAT unit in the van and said, “Alright, we’re rolling down Lake Street. The first f***ers we see, we’re just hammering ’em with 40s,” according to body camera footage described in court documents. He was referring to “less lethal” plastic projectiles sometimes called rubber bullets or 40mm launchers or rounds.
The SWAT team headed down Lake Street, trying to lure Minneapolis residents closer to the van so their shots could do more damage. Sgt. Bittell and his supervisor urged each other on, cheering on successful shots and expressing their disappointment when shots failed to connect. During this shooting spree, the SWAT team opened fire on a gas station owner and his friends who were helping protect the business from looters. They also shot a Vice News reporter who had his hands up and was shouting “Press” as the officers opened fire.
Eventually, the officers worked their (violent) way to Jaleel Stallings, who understandably thought he was being shot by violent non-cops:
About an hour later, three blocks to the west, they opened the sliding door of the van and began firing plastic rounds at people in a parking lot.
They hit Jaleel K. Stallings, 29, a St. Paul truck driver, who says he didn’t know they were cops because they were inside an unmarked white cargo van with the police lights off. He thought they were real bullets. And, he says he was mindful of warnings earlier that day from no less than Gov. Tim Walz that white supremacists were roaming the city looking for trouble.
Just as understandably, Stallings, a military veteran, returned fire with his fully legal pistol. He fired low towards the front of the van and dropped to the ground behind his truck. Almost immediately after firing, Stallings realized police officers were in the van. This realization was driven home by multiple officers swarming the man — who was prone, face down on the ground with his pistol out of his reach, a move he made voluntarily when he realized the unmarked van was operated by the Minneapolis PD.
None of this mattered to the SWAT team, which greeted mistaken violence with deliberate violence. This was the end result of that violence:
Court documents describe bodycam footage that show he dropped his gun on the ground and lay face down, with his hands to the side above his head, as though he was surrendering.
He didn’t move for 20 seconds as the officers approached.
“You f***ing piece of shit!” Stetson yelled, and began kicking and punching Stallings in the head and neck, according to court documents.
Stallings didn’t move. He was trying to surrender and de-escalate the situation, he said in an interview.
Bittell began kneeing and punching Stallings in the stomach, chest and back. The beating went on for about 30 seconds — with Bittell and Stetson punching and kicking Stallings in the head, neck, stomach, chest and back.
Midway through the beating, Stetson told Stallings to put his arms behind his back, and after handcuffing him, Bittell sat him up and kicked him in the ribs as Stetson continued hitting him in the head.
In summation, from the Minneapolis Star Tribune report:
The beating left Stallings with several injuries, the lawsuit said: a fractured eye socket, bruising, trauma, paranoia and anxiety. He had also been shot in the chest with a marking round, which resulted in labored breathing, the suit said.
This was the other aftermath:
Following the May 30 incident, Stallings was charged with second-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault, second-degree assault and second-degree riot, among other counts.
That’s how the state responded to provoked violence triggered by officers’ unprovoked violence. Prosecutors offered him a plea deal that would have netted him a 13-year prison term but he fought the charges. Prosecutors kept trying to punish him for reacting to the PD’s (unmarked) violent actions but the jury didn’t find the cops sympathetic. They likely didn’t find them believable either.
Back to Deena Wilson’s coverage of this case, which also includes a detailed look at the contradictory testimony (you know… LIES) offered by SWAT team members, who had to do some hasty revisions on their sworn statements once Stallings’ lawyer obtained body cam footage.
The complaint said officers “deployed one 40-mm round at Stallings” even though officers fired two rounds before Stallings returned fire.
Stallings “quickly ran away” and was handcuffed “after a struggle,” according to a press release issued by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who said Stallings was charged for “shooting at police officers amidst riots and protests” and “firing multiple shots at SWAT officers during riots.”
“None of the officers, nor Stallings, were injured,” the release said, even though Stallings’ bruised, scraped face on his mugshot clearly indicates otherwise, and he was taken to a hospital after his arrest.
Stetson acknowledged he never told the investigating officers he shot Stallings, or that he called him a “f***ing piece of sh**” and kicked him in the head four times.
“He had just shot at us; we needed to have full control over him before we do any sort of interview,” he testified.
Asked why he continued to beat Stallings even after both his hands were behind his back, Stetson said Stallings wasn’t complying with him.
“Again, emotions were high, I just shot — got shot at. I thought I was going to die.”
The testimony may have contained even more “contradictions” (it’s pronounced “LIES”) but the Minneapolis PD unanimously decided to stop creating incriminating evidence against itself.
About nine minutes after the shooting, the unit was ordered to turn off its body cameras.
Now, the Minneapolis PD is being sued for rights violations. The filing of this lawsuit [PDF] against these officers immediately followed Stallings’ acquittal. If you think anyone covering this is giving you an overwrought depiction of these officers, their actions, and their attitudes, keep in mind these depictions contain direct quotes from police recordings… quotes like these (from Stallings’ lawsuit):
After protesters moved away, Sgt. Bittell instructed officers to “wait” and “draw [the protesters] in.” He wanted protesters to come closer to the line of officers so that officers could shoot the protesters with 40mm rounds.
Officer Stetson fired a 40mm round and struck a distant civilian. Officers Stetson yelled “gotcha” at the civilian that he had struck. Other officers laughed and congratulated Officer Stetson. Officer Dauble gave Officer Stetson a fist bump.
Lt. Mercil mocked journalists who had been covering the protests. […] Lt. Mercil expressed encouragement and approval to Officer Osbeck regarding improper use of force toward journalists and others.
Sgt. Bittell met Unit 1281 officers by their van. Sgt. Bittell told his team about their mission: “We’re rolling down Lake St. The first f***ers we see, we’re just handling them with 40[mm rounds].” Sgt. Bittell asked his team if that was a “good copy.” Unit 1281 officers responded with laughter and enthusiasm.
A Unit 1281 officer joked about “hunting” civilians that evening.
The officer complained that civilians were “p*****s” and explained that “[officers] get within thirty feet of [civilians] and they run.” Sgt. Bittell agreed and responded, “Exactly, you got to hit them with the 40[mm rounds].”
Blessed are the peacemakers, said Jesus. These officers aren’t getting free pass to the better parts of the Kingdom of Heaven, however. These officers weren’t trying to keep the peace. They were out joyriding, attempting to inflict pain in retribution for four nights of protests and looting. These officers willfully forgot what triggered the protests and violence, and decided it was their turn to inflict misery, forgetting that the constant infliction of misery over decades led to the flashpoint that made them (very briefly) feel like the underdogs.
While it’s heartening to see Stallings acquitted by a jury of his peers, his lawsuit is far less likely to succeed. Even with all of their lies, the officers will likely be able to justify their actions with claims they feared for their safety — a fear enhanced by four straight nights of often violent protests. What they may not be able to explain away so easily is their decision to continue beating an unarmed man who threw away his weapon and immediately surrendered to officers — something captured by a nearby CCTV camera. The arrest may have probable cause backing it but the violence preceding the arrest isn’t so easily explained.
And, so far, the officers involved in this rolling shooting gallery have yet to be disciplined by the Minneapolis PD, which means the department implicitly approves of officers using the streets of the city as a shooting gallery, especially if it allows officers to vent a little frustration and anger at the public’s unwillingness to ignore yet another murder of an unarmed black man by white police officers.