2 cops in Stallings videos are getting disability pensions

By: - October 14, 2021 6:05 am

Minneapolis Police guard the Third Precinct on May 27 during protests following the police killing of George Floyd. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Two of the Minneapolis police officers under scrutiny for their handling of protesters in the days after George Floyd’s killing have taken “duty disability retirements” of $62,000 and $84,000 per year with health insurance. 

A third took regular retirement and $118,000 per year. 

Recently released videos show officers indiscriminately shooting rubber bullets at people, slashing tires, making a racist comment and beating a man, Jaleel Stallings after he mistakenly fired at officers.  

Former Officer Christopher Cushenbery left the city on April 2, and is receiving a disability pension of $5,168 per month; former Lt. Johnny Mercil left city employment on May 4, and is getting a duty disability pension of $7,026 per month.

Former Commander Bruce Folkens, who left the city on July 31, is receiving a regular retirement of $9,891 per month, according to data provided by the Minnesota Public Employees Retirement Association, or PERA.

PERA Executive Director Doug Anderson isn’t allowed by law to specify the disabilities or their causes. 

During the past 15 months, about 80% of PERA disability retirements have been due to post-traumatic stress disorder. 

New bodycam footage was released last week by the attorney for Stallings, 29, who was charged with eight crimes after he shot back at a Minneapolis Police Department SWAT team that was roaming the streets in an unmarked white cargo van, firing 40-millimeter marking rounds — commonly called rubber bullets — without warning, at people out past curfew.

After getting hit in the chest, Stallings returned fire with his pistol, for which he had a permit. He later testified he didn’t know they were police officers and thought he’d been hit with a real bullet, possibly fired by one of the white supremacists thought to be roaming the city.

Before going on trial, Stallings was offered a plea deal which would have resulted in a nearly 13-year prison sentence.

He rejected it and was acquitted by a jury of all charges in July.

Mercil is seen in recently released bodycam videos complaining about reporters covering the post-Floyd civil unrest and implying only Black people were responsible for looting and arson after Floyd’s killing.

The bodycam of the officer who was driving the SWAT team’s unmarked van shows Mercil walking up to the van driver about an hour before the Stallings incident. He said, “F*** these media.”

“They think they can do whatever they want,” Officer Michael Osbeck Jr. replied.

After an officer offered to either “blank” or “flank” the group, Mercil said, “I got no problem with that; I’d love to scatter ’em but it’s time to f***in’ put people in jail and just prove the mayor wrong about this ‘white supremacists from out-of-state.’ Although this group probably is predominantly white, because there’s not looting and fires.”

Mercil was in charge of MPD’s use-of-force training, and months later would testify during former officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial. He told the jury that officers are trained to use the least amount of force needed to meet their objective.

Officer Cushenbery was the first police officer to fire marking rounds at Stallings later that night. He hit Stallings in the torso, saying later in a court hearing that he’d been trained to aim at the chest, legs or buttocks.

Under MPD policy, officers shouldn’t use 40mm rounds to target a person’s head, neck, throat and chest (in the vicinity of the heart) “unless deadly force is justified,” because they could cause “permanent physical or mental incapacity or possible death.”

MPD policy also directs officers to announce, whenever possible, the use of 40mm launchers so officers “do not mistake the sight and noise” with that of “live ammunition.”

During the subsequent investigation, Cushenbery didn’t mention to investigators his sergeant’s orders before their unmarked white van rolled down Lake Street that night to “hit the first f***ers” they saw. He also didn’t mention that they fired rubber bullets at Stallings, according to court documents.

As of Friday, four of the five SWAT team members directly involved in the Stallings incident were still working for the city. Only Cushenbery has left the city.

After the shooting, Commander Folkens is shown on bodycam videos praising a SWAT team member for proactively going out and “hunting people” that night.

“It’s nice to hear that we’ve moved to — tonight it was just nice to hear ‘We’re gonna go find some more people.’ Instead of chasing people around… you guys are out hunting people now. It’s just a nice change of tempo.”

“Yep, agreed,” the officer said.

“F*** these people,” Folkens said.

Mercil and Folkens did not respond to a request for comment, and Cushenberry could not be reached.

MPD has declined to comment, saying an internal investigation is underway.

The Minneapolis Police Department has been hit with a wave of resignations, retirements and disability claims since Floyd’s murder in May 2020. The mass exodus of police officers and workers’ compensation claims, as well litigation resulting from police misconduct cases, are contributing to a projected 2022 budget deficit, the city budget officer recently told the City Council.

PERA administers a statewide police and firefighter retirement plan that includes a disability benefit until age 55, when employees are eligible to retire. Employees who retire early due to a disability get paid an amount based on on their years of service, but get at least 60% of their salary tax-free for five years or until they turn 55. At 55, the benefit converts to a regular retirement — the amount doesn’t change.

When an employee retires due to a disability, state law requires the city of Minneapolis to pay for health insurance until age 65. There’s no minimum age that workers must reach to get a disability pension, but only a disability pension includes the requirement that cities provide health insurance until age 65.

Separately, the employee getting a duty disability pension could also receive workers’ compensation benefits. If they qualify, they can often make just as much as when they were working full time. 

Anne Finn, a lobbyist for the League of Minnesota Cities, has said the cost of workers’ comp claims and health insurance for such “duty disability retirements” are fiscally unsustainable for public employers, and, in turn, taxpayers. 

All but the nine self-insured Minnesota cities have workers’ compensation coverage through the League.

People who get a disability pension are not allowed to work for another police department, but are allowed to get a job in a different field. That income could reduce their pension, Anderson said.

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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.