Attorney says Hennepin prosecutors refuse to release public records about Stallings case
Eric Rice is asking a state commissioner to weigh in on whether the prosecutors followed the law
Jaleel Stallings stands next to his pickup that he took cover behind as police fired rubber bullets at him. One damaged the side mirror. Photo by Deena Winter/Minnesota Reformer.
Jaleel Stallings’ attorney says the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office is refusing to turn over public records pertaining to his case.
Stallings was acquitted of eight charges in connection with shooting at Minneapolis police who fired marking rounds at him without warning five days after George Floyd’s police murder.
A SWAT team was driving around Minneapolis in an unmarked van, firing 40-mm rubber bullets at civilians out after curfew. After Stallings fired back with a pistol, unaware they were cops, he was beaten before being arrested. He said he thought they were white supremacists and purposefully missed to try to scare them off.
After his acquittal, Stallings sued the city and was awarded $1.5 million plus costs and attorneys’ fees. Now his attorney, Eric Rice, is requesting a non-binding advisory opinion from the state Data Practices Office regarding his request for prosecutors’ “correspondence and non-work-product materials” pertaining to the case. The advisory opinion is a first step toward other legal remedies, such as going to court, in what could wind up being a momentous public records case.
The prosecutors’ office never gave Rice any records, arguing in a letter to the state that the Data Practices Office commissioner has previously interpreted state law narrowly, exempting “information protected by the attorney-client privilege or work product doctrine” from the state’s public records law, known as the Data Practices Act. Prosecutors said that “encompasses much of the data” in the Stallings case, and added that Rice already had the chance to seek the information through the discovery process for his civil suit.
Rice argued correspondence surrounding media coverage should still be public, including a Minnesota Reformer story and numerous news outlets’ followup coverage, from the Washington Post to CNN. The resulting “public outcry” surely resulted in contacts with the office, Rice argued, but the prosecutor’s office turned over no such records.
Rice said in an interview he is curious to see if any corrective measures were considered or training done after the case — particularly given how public information was disseminated.
A press release issued by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman after the Stallings shooting turned out to be repeatedly contradicted by body camera videos Rice obtained. The press release said Stallings was charged for “shooting at police officers amidst riots and protests” and “firing multiple shots at SWAT officers during riots.” There were no riots in the area where the incident occurred.
The release said SWAT officers were patrolling Lake Street in an unmarked white van to “control the crowds that were causing severe property damage” when they came upon a group, and Stallings stepped out from behind his pickup, walked toward the officers and crouched by the pickup door. In fact, there were no crowds causing property damage. And, the SWAT team immediately fired on Stallings, without warning, according to body camera videos.
The release said Stallings’ actions prompted officers to fire “one 40-mm round at Stallings” even though they fired two rounds before Stallings returned fire. And the release also said Stallings “quickly ran away,” even though he dropped to the ground and immediately surrendered with his hands outstretched. And finally, the release said he was handcuffed “after a struggle,” even though the graphic body camera video shows he did not resist arrest.
Freeman’s version said neither the officer nor Stallings were injured, even though Stallings’ bruised, scraped face on his mugshot clearly indicated otherwise, and he was taken to a hospital after his arrest. He suffered a fractured eye socket.
Asked why he’s seeking the documents, Rice said, “I just think it’s important to have transparency into the operation of our government agencies.”
The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office spokesman declined to comment beyond the statement it provided to the state.
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