Former Minneapolis police officer charged with assaulting Jaleel Stallings

Prosecutors say Justin Stetson kicked and punched the man in the face and head

By: - December 28, 2022 7:52 pm

Jaleel Stalling’s mugshot from May 30, 2020 show his face bruised and swollen from being hit by Minneapolis police officers. He said he was smiling because he was happy to be alive.

The Minnesota attorney general filed an assault charge Wednesday against a former Minneapolis police officer, accusing him of beating Jaleel Stallings five days after George Floyd’s police murder.

The incident occurred after Stallings fired at a SWAT team that was driving around shooting 40mm marking rounds — or rubber bullets — at curfew violators from an unmarked van. Justin Stetson, who was part of the SWAT team that night, was charged with third-degree felony assault for the beating of Stallings, for which the maximum sentence is five years’ imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.

The charges are just the latest fallout from the Stallings case, which also led to a $1.5 million city settlement to Stallings, whose eye socket was fractured in the beating. 

Stetson, 34, is charged with repeatedly striking Stallings for nearly 30 seconds, even though Stallings had surrendered, was lying prone on the ground, “posed no imminent threat,” and didn’t resist arrest or Stetson’s use of force, according to the criminal complaint. 

Former law enforcement officer Ian Adams completed a use-of-force review of the case, and concluded in a Dec. 16 report that Stetson’s use of force was “unreasonable, excessive, and contrary to generally accepted police practice.” 

Stallings wound up hospitalized and charged with eight crimes. 

Stetson no longer has an active peace officer’s license in Minnesota, according to the attorney general. He took a disability retirement in August and receives a state pension of nearly $59,000 annually. Being charged with a crime will not affect his pension. Court documents say he lives in Nowthen, Minnesota.

The charge resulted from a state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigation into the incident. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office referred the case to the Attorney General’s Office last spring, months after the Reformer reported on the incident. . 

The charging document says shortly before 11 p.m. on May 30, 2020, the SWAT team was driving westbound on Lake Street in an unmarked van with the sliding door open, flanked by a parade of other police vehicles with no lights or sirens on. 

Stallings and three others were standing in a parking lot between 14th and 15th Avenue South when the van came into view from behind a building. Almost immediately, the SWAT team — including Stetson — began firing on the civilians without warning. 

Stallings was hit in the chest, and thought he’d been hit by a bullet, so he fired three rounds with his pistol in the direction of the van, purposely missing to try to scare the shooters off, he later testified. Stallings is an Army veteran who had a permit for the pistol and at the time was a truck driver. Stallings was acquitted by a jury after claiming self-defense.

Only when the officers yelled “shots fired!” and jumped out of the van and ran toward Stallings did he realize they were cops, he later testified. He tossed his gun and dropped to the ground, lying flat on the pavement with his arms outstretched.

Although Stalling was already down, Stetson grabbed his handgun and yelled at Stallings to get on the ground. Stetson said, “He’s down” and “he’s on the ground” while running toward Stallings, suggesting he knew that Stallings was down and not a threat. 

Stetson kicked Stallings in the face and head about four times, punched his head some six times, lifted his head and slammed it down into the pavement once, and delivered about five knee strikes to his face while calling Stallings a “f***ing piece of s***,” according to the charging document.

All the while, Stetson gave Stallings no other verbal commands until he finally told him to put his hands behind his back. Bodycam videos show Stallings repeatedly trying to cooperate, saying “Listen, listen, sir, I’m trying to.”

After Sgt. Andrew Bittell grabbed Stallings’ hands and held them behind his back, Stetson continued to hit Stallings with his fists. After handcuffing Stallings, Bittell sat him up and kicked him in the ribs as Stetson continued hitting him in the head.

Even after his sergeant, Bittell, told Stetson to stop hitting Stallings, he continued. Bittell said, “That’s it; stop it,” but Stetson continued the beating until Bittell grabbed his wrist 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.

Although Bittell has not been charged with a crime, body camera videos show he kneed and punched Stallings in the stomach, chest and back. 

Bittell and Stetson later testified they used force because Stallings was resisting arrest and they feared he was armed, although neither frisked him before beating him.

Earlier that night, Bittell had told the SWAT team that if they saw any groups of people to “call it out” and “f*** ’em up, gas ’em, f*** ’em up.”

“The first f***ers we see, we’re just hammering ’em with 40s,” he said before the SWAT headed out on Lake Street that night, referring to 40 mm projectiles.

Stetson said during questioning in a court hearing that some members of the SWAT team enjoyed firing the marking rounds at civilians at times, but said they were trying to “gain back control of the city.”

“It was five nights of a complete riot where the city was burning down,” he said.

As Stallings’ case played out, key details emerged that often contradicted what officers told investigators after the incident. Stetson acknowledged in court that he never told the investigating officers he shot Stallings first, or that he beat him.

Asked why he continued to beat Stallings even after both his hands were behind his back, Stetson said Stallings wasn’t complying with him.

“Again, emotions were high, I just shot — got shot at. I thought I was going to die.”

Stetson could not be reached for comment, and Stallings and his attorney declined to comment.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman recently said he erred in prosecuting Stallings, but said MPD officers lied to prosecutors about the case.

Stetson had been employed with MPD since at least 2011, and underwent over 1,200 hours of training, including use of force and de-escalation training, according to the charging documents.

The officers also beat and repeatedly Tased a friend who was with Stallings, Virgil Lee Jackson Jr. Jackson sued the city and won a $645,000 settlement. No charges have been filed against those officers.

All five officers on the SWAT team that shot at Stallings had multiple complaints lodged against them when the incident happened, but almost all of them were closed with no discipline issued. 

Prosecutors did not tell the defense — as constitutionally required — that Stetson had previously been reprimanded for failing to report his use of force. The FBI is also investigating the Stallings incident.

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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.

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