Mayor: SWAT team’s tactics were ‘incredibly disturbing’

Investigation of MPD officers underway

By: - September 2, 2021 7:52 pm

A demonstrator holds a sign with a Minneapolis Police Department logo modiifed to say Muderous Police, at a protest in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota, on November 4, 2020. Photo by Tony Webster/Minnesota Reformer.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey called a Minneapolis SWAT team’s tactic of driving around in an unmarked van firing “less lethal” plastic projectiles at civilians five days after George Floyd’s police killing “incredibly disturbing.”

One of the people they hit with 40mm launchers, Jaleel Stallings, didn’t know they were cops and fired back with his pistol, prompting the SWAT team to tumble out of the van and beat him to the point where he was taken to a hospital with a fractured eye socket. He was charged with eight crimes, including two counts of attempted second-degree murder and two counts of assault with deadly force against police officers, but a jury acquitted him of all counts in July.

The allegations — as outlined in a Reformer story — “run counter to our values as a city,” Frey said in a statement that indicated the city’s disciplinary process is underway. 

“We will share additional information as possible and in accordance with state law, which frustratingly prohibits my providing further comment at this time and prevents local governments from providing information without compromising the integrity of investigations and our ability to effectively impose discipline,” Frey said.

The Stallings case is roiling a contentious fall election in which Minneapolis voters will decide on a public safety charter amendment, which would give the City Council more say in the management of a new public safety agency. Frey and the council are also on the ballot.  

The mayor was more critical of the officers in the Stallings case than Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who released a statement saying that “context is important,” given the officers had just been through four days of rioting and the burning of the 3rd Precinct and peaceful protests that sometimes quickly escalated to violence. 

“We respect the judicial process as well as the internal investigatory process which is currently active,” Arradondo said.

Hennepin County District Judge William Koch in a pre-trial order was also critical of MPD leadership, found the officers used excessive force and allowed Stallings to claim self-defense during his trial, which a different judge presided over.

Minneapolis Council Member Jeremiah Ellison said he was outraged by the incident, and urged Arradondo to take more accountability for his officers’ actions and have more empathy for “the victim his officers targeted.” 

Given the city charter, which gives the mayor authority over MPD, Ellison said, “I’m doubtful that there’s any action we can take.” 

After MPD maimed protesters and journalists covering the protests over Floyd’s murder, the City Council considered banning or regulating the use of such less-lethal weapons. But the City Attorney’s Office said the council doesn’t have the authority to do so because the city charter gives the mayor control over police. 

Minneapolis residents will vote on whether to change that portion of the charter in November, as well as replace the police department with a new department of public safety.

The city did tighten up its use of these weapons in an agreement with the state last year, requiring the police chief to sign off on their use, for example.

Council Member Steve Fletcher said this incident is more evidence that MPD was out of control during the unrest. And he said he was “deeply disappointed” in Arradondo’s statement suggesting that “hunting Minneapolis residents in an unmarked van and firing less lethal weapons at them might be understandable in the context of protests.”  

Minneapolis Council Member Jeremy Schroeder said it was a shock to see how MPD responded last year when residents needed protection.

“They were out in unmarked vehicles shooting at residents without engaging, without trying to de-escalate, without even trying to find out what what was going on,” he said.

Schroeder said he has reached out to Arradondo to see how he is addressing the situation, but hasn’t heard back yet. He has expressed frustration with the lack of discipline of officers misconduct during protests last year.

All five officers on the SWAT team have had multiple complaints lodged against them, but all but one of them were closed with no discipline issued. Minneapolis Police Conduct Oversight Commissioner Abigail Cerra, a civil rights lawyer, said when complaints are sustained and “coaching” is imposed rather than discipline, the city records that as “closed no discipline.” Only when discipline is imposed are the cases made public. Cerra and others have lobbied to make coaching cases public, too, to no avail. 

Other elected officials were also critical of the SWAT team’s tactics last year: House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler said on social media the excessive force in the bodycam videos was “completely indefensible,” and Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman’s decision to prosecute Stallings seemed “highly dubious” based on the evidence released.

“When police and our criminal justice system abuse public trust, they lose the legitimacy necessary to protect public safety,” Winkler wrote.

Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, also called the officers’ actions unacceptable. 

“What’s more chilling is that none of their actions rise to the level that would endanger them of losing their license to be a peace officer in the state of Minnesota,” Frazier wrote on Twitter.


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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.