County attorney’s office now says it doesn’t object to bodycam release

By: - September 16, 2021 3:54 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.

Emails show that the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office objected to the release of police body-worn camera footage shown at the July trial of a St. Paul man who was acquitted of eight charges after he shot at a Minneapolis SWAT team after they struck him in the chest with a rubber bullet.

In the wake of several Reformer stories about the case, however, a spokesman for County Attorney Mike Freeman released a statement saying he doesn’t object to the release of the videos or other evidence produced during the trial. But he said it’s up to the city of Minneapolis to release them. 

But the city has also rebuffed attempts to obtain the videos.

Five days after the police killing of George Floyd, Jaleel Stallings was shot with “less lethal” rubber bullets and fired back with his pistol, missing the SWAT team. He testified during the trial that he didn’t know the assailants were police officers because they shot at him from a darkened, unmarked van immediately after coming into view at 14th Avenue as their van crept down Lake Street. He was hit in the chest by what he thought was a real bullet, so he fired back with his gun. He was acquitted by a jury in July of eight charges, including two counts of attempted second-degree murder. 

Although Stallings quickly surrendered after he realized they were police, officers still beat him up, fracturing his eye socket and sending him to the hospital. 

Stallings’ attorney, Eric Rice, obtained hours of bodycam video for pre-trial hearings and the trial, and has asked Hennepin County District Judge William Koch to exempt the bodycam evidence from a 2016 standing order governing the release of bodycam videos to the public. The order possibly prohibits Rice from disclosing the videos unless the prosecutor agrees in writing to exempt them if Rice would be entitled to get them under the state Data Practices Act. 

On Aug. 19, Rice emailed the prosecuting attorney, Erin Stephens, asking for her approval to exempt the videos from the order. The following day, Stephens replied, saying “The state objects to a release of these exhibits. Mr. Rice can make a data practice request.”

After Rice pressed her to give a basis for her objection, Stephens replied by email Aug. 23, saying, “I object to the release of the pretrial exhibits.”

“They are ultimately the MPD’s,” she wrote. “Any of the requests for release would be handled by the City of Minneapolis attorneys.”

Rice responded, “At this time would you agree that dissemination of trial exhibits is permitted though?” to which Stephens replied, “I do not agree. I will wait for Judge Koch on this issue as I have nothing further to discuss at this point.”

The Reformer reported that Hennepin County prosecutors would not agree to release Rice from the restrictions. Then Dan Mabley, chief deputy of the criminal division in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, released a statement Tuesday saying the Reformer inaccurately reported that the office objected to the release of bodycam video evidence or other evidence produced at trial. He said the Stephens’ objections were “procedural in nature” and “we have no problems with release.”

Mabley said the prosecutor’s office doesn’t control copies of the bodycam. The videos are held by the MPD, he said, and urged the city attorney’s office to release the evidence. 

Both the Reformer and Rice have sought to get the bodycam videos through an open records request with the city. People who appear in the bodycam video can get copies of the video in which they appear when the case is inactive, so the city said Stallings’ attorney could get videos in which Stallings appeared. So Rice narrowed his request and obtained four redacted videos Sept. 1. He provided the videos to the Reformer for a followup story, but the city said it was not legally obligated to release any more.

Assistant Minneapolis City Attorney Caroline Bachun said in a court filing that the city doesn’t have the video footage as it was presented in court, and isn’t required to “recreate” it under the open records law. 

Unless resolved before then, Rice’s request to release the videos will be discussed during a Monday hearing before Judge Koch. 

Rice has said it’s important that the videos be released in their entirety, so Stallings can show the evidence that led to his acquittal for second-degree attempted murder.

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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.