Prosecutors did not disclose evidence of MPD officers’ past discipline

By: - September 13, 2021 4:38 pm

A screenshot from body camera video shot the night Jaleel Stallings returned fire after being hit with a rubber bullet by a Minneapolis Police Department SWAT team.

The defense attorney for Jaleel Stallings said he was not given any disciplinary records of the officers involved in shooting less-lethal rubber bullets at citizens five days after George Floyd’s police killing. 

Stallings, who shot back in self defense before being beaten by police, was acquitted of eight charges — including attempted murder — by a Hennepin County jury in July. 

Prosecutors are required by the constitution to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense, in what’s dubbed the Brady rule, named after a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court’s 1963 decision in Brady v. Maryland.

Stallings’ attorney, Eric Rice, said he requested Brady material from the prosecutors, including disciplinary records of the officers involved but was told there were none.

A Sept. 1 Reformer article cited records that show two of the five officers involved had been disciplined before. Officer Justin Stetson had been reprimanded for failing to report his use of force and injury caused to a young man after police responded to a report of young Black men suspected of selling drugs. Officer Christopher Cushenbery also got a letter of reprimand for failing to show up to testify after being subpoenaed. 

Rice said he did not receive those files from prosecutors and is now looking into the issue. 

“Fair judicial process, including the identification and disclosure of exculpatory evidence, is an important part of the criminal justice system,” he said in an email. “Issues leading to improper or unfair proceedings should be identified and corrected.”

Former Chief Hennepin County Public Defender Mary Moriarty, who is considering running for Hennepin County attorney, said failure to turn over such information has been a pattern at the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. The office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Brady violations are often discovered after convictions, Moriarty said, and that’s a leading cause of wrongful convictions nationwide. Generally, a Brady violation that prejudices a defendant will result in conviction reversal and new trial.

Officers fired on Stallings and other bystanders from a moving unmarked van, and he returned fire with live ammunition, thinking he was being shot at by white supremacists. He was then assaulted by police.

Bodycam videos show Stetson called Stallings a “f***ing piece of shit” and kicked and punched Stallings in the head and neck, along with his sergeant, for about 30 seconds, according to court documents. After Stallings was handcuffed and sat up in the recovery position, Stetson continued hitting him in the head, even after his sergeant told him to stop — until the sergeant grabbed his hand and said, “It’s OK.”

Stetson beat Stallings so badly he said his hands and feet hurt afterward, and wondered aloud whether he broke his hand, according to court documents.

All five officers on the SWAT team have had multiple complaints lodged against them, but almost all of them were closed with no discipline issued. Often at MPD, “coaching” is imposed rather than discipline; only when discipline is imposed are the complaints made public. 

Stallings was acquitted of all charges after a July jury trial, testifying that he didn’t know who was shooting at him because a SWAT team immediately fired on him without warning,  from an unmarked, darkened cargo van as he stood in a parking lot at 14th Avenue and Lake Street. 

He said he thought he’d been struck in the chest with a bullet and fired back with his mini Draco pistol, but purposely didn’t aim for the people shooting from inside the van’s sliding door. He didn’t hit any of the officers, who responded to his shot by jumping out of the van, yelling “Shots fired!” After the beating, Stallings was taken to a hospital with a fractured eye socket.

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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.