Minneapolis Mayor: Video of police department’s response to unrest ‘galling’ 

By: - October 8, 2021 10:56 am

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey outlines the city’s safety plan on Feb. 17, 2021 for the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin for killing George Floyd. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said it was “galling” to see recently released body camera video footage giving a behind-the-scenes look at how Minneapolis police officers behaved as they struggled to regain control of the city after five days of civil unrest sparked by George Floyd’s police killing.

Frey said “we’ve seen videos and images that shock the conscience” from law enforcement “across jurisdictions, including the MPD.”

“The most recent video footage that we saw showing use of force I think is antithetical to everything that we should be pushing for in our police department,” Frey said on Facebook Thursday.

Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender responded by tweeting, “Also galling is spending the last year sweeping this violent behavior under the rug, disciplining zero officers, carrying water for the Police Federation and blocking and lying about the City Council’s work to incrementally invest in a more resilient, less violent safety system.”

Frey said although people citywide are demanding accountability for the MPD’s actions, and he would like to share as much as he can, as soon as possible, but he can’t talk about specific cases or the city could see any discipline meted out overturned by an arbitrator.

“I can’t say upfront that I want to see the individual fired or disciplined,” he said. “I am not willing to trade accountability and our ability to discipline or terminate officers that deserve it for a political win.”

Frey was responding to the bodycam videos released Tuesday by the attorney for Jaleel Stallings, who was acquitted in July of eight charges stemming from an incident five days after Floyd’s killing, as first reported by the Reformer.

Stallings and some friends were standing in a parking lot at Lake Street and 14th Avenue around 11 p.m. when a van drove by and a SWAT team inside fired 40-millimeter marking rounds (more commonly called rubber bullets) at them, striking Stallings in the chest. Stallings, an Army veteran who was concerned that white supremacists were on the prowl, as the governor had warned earlier that day, fired back with his Draco pistol, purposely missing the shooters inside the van, he would later testify.

He was acquitted of all charges. Then his attorney, Eric Rice, fought to release the bodycam videos that were played during Stallings’ trial, to show the public what really happened after Stallings was excoriated in the press last year.

The bodycam videos show the MPD taking an increasingly militaristic approach to the civil unrest that rocked the city for days, with officers mocking protesters and firing rubber bullets at civilians without warning, sometimes at their backs as they fled, and celebrating direct hits. Under MPD policy, officers shouldn’t use 40mm rounds to target a person’s head, neck, throat or chest “unless deadly force is justified” because they could cause “permanent physical or mental incapacity or possible death.” 

The videos released by Rice Tuesday show MPD Lt. Johnny Mercil complaining about reporters covering the unrest and implying Black people were responsible for the looting and arson; Commander Bruce Folkens praising a SWAT team member for proactively going out and “hunting people” that night; and Sgt. Andrew Bittell puncturing protesters’ vehicle tires and ordering the SWAT team to fire at civilians without warning and “gas ’em, f*** ’em up.”

Investigations related to the civil unrest are underway, he said, and a number are complete or almost done, but Frey said “a lot of officers” that could have been disciplined or terminated have quit the force, and “You can’t terminate or discipline an officer that is already gone,” he said. 

Other officers are on leave, and have been directed by their attorneys not to participate in interviews with the city workers investigating police misconduct, he said.

“If we can’t gather the necessary evidence and information, then we’re not put in a position where we can actually get the (disciplinary) decision upheld,” Frey said.

About 200 MPD officers have left the force since Floyd’s killing.

As of Sept. 9, four of the five SWAT team members involved in the incident were still working for the city; Officer Christopher Cushenbery left the city on April 2, according to city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie.

Among two supervisors involved, Mercil left city employment on May 4, the mayor confirmed Friday. “There is no further public data,” he said in a statement to the Reformer.

A spokesman for MPD said Commander Folkens’ also left city employment, on July 31.

Complaints are handled by MPD’s Internal Affairs Unit and the civilian Office of Police Conduct Review, and the heads of both departments, the Joint Supervisors, make recommendations to Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who decides on discipline.

Then the officer has 21 to 30 days to decide whether they want to appeal the decision through the grievance process, and the decision is only final once that process ends. If the officer appeals the decision and an arbitrator agrees to hear the case, a trial-like process can take months, Frey said.

If an officer is on leave or has left the department, by law, the city can’t force them to participate in the investigation.

In the past decade, MPD has spent an average of 539 days to resolve a case that results in discipline, according to a Reformer investigation last year. 

“There are no magic wand solutions to the challenges we face,” Frey said. “The only way to fix these problems is by coming together to do the hard work of breaking down structural barriers to accountability.”

MPD spokesman Garrett Parten has declined to comment on the officers’ actions due to an “ongoing internal investigation.” 

Updated at 3:43 p.m. Friday 

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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.