Minneapolis police officers mill about after a SWAT team beat and Tased Virgil Lee Jackson Jr. and his friend Jaleel Stallings because Stallings shot back at them after they hit him in the chest with a marking round from an unmarked white cargo van while patrolling Lake Street on May 30, 2020. Screenshot from body camera video.
Jaleel Stallings, who was beaten by Minneapolis police officers after he shot at them in self defense in 2020, is objecting to a plea agreement for the officer who did most of the beating.
The deal would allow the cop to avoid jail time and plead guilty to a misdemeanor.
Former Minneapolis police officer Justin Stetson was charged in December with assaulting Stallings five days after George Floyd’s police murder. The law requires victims to be notified of plea deals, and Stallings was notified of a plea agreement.
The charges stem from a May 30, 2020 incident as police struggled to regain control of the city amid protests and riots. A SWAT team was driving around the city, shooting 40mm marking rounds — or rubber bullets — without warning at curfew violators from an unmarked van.
Stallings was struck in the chest while standing in a Lake Street parking lot, 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 with a gun permit.
Stetson is charged with repeatedly striking Stallings for nearly 30 seconds, even though Stallings 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.
Stetson kicked Stallings in the face and head four times, punched his head six times, lifted Stallings’ head and slammed it into the pavement once, and delivered 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 verbal commands until he finally told him to put his hands behind his back. Body camera videos show Stallings repeatedly trying to cooperate, saying “Listen, listen, sir, I’m trying to.”
Stetson beat Stallings so badly he wondered aloud whether he broke his hand, according to court documents.
Stallings wound up hospitalized with a fractured eye socket and charged with eight crimes, including attempting to murder police officers. He was acquitted by a jury after body camera and surveillance videos contradicted the officers’ stories and Stallings claimed self-defense, as the Reformer first reported in September 2021.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman has said he erred in prosecuting Stallings, saying MPD officers lied about what happened.
In December, Stetson was charged with third-degree felony assault for beating Stallings. The maximum sentence is five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The Attorney General’s Office recently amended the charges to include a misdemeanor count of misconduct by a public officer or employee, as first reported by KSTP. That charge has a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a $3,000 fine. Stetson could plead guilty to the lesser charge during a previously scheduled Wednesday court appearance.
The assault charge against Stetson 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. A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office said prosecutors are reserving comment until Stetson’s court appearance.
Stallings filed a 15-page objection to the proposed plea agreement. Stallings, who now lives in Texas, said the deal fails to hold Stetson accountable for the harm he caused Stallings, his profession and the community he swore to protect.
“The lenient resolution simply reassures other malicious officers that they are welcome to use violence and lies against their own citizens without fear of punishment,” Stallings wrote in the court filing.
Stallings said he blacked out at one point during the beating and was “such a bloody mess” that other officers thought he’d been shot. For weeks afterward, he couldn’t sneeze or sleep without “incredible pain,” he said.
The officers’ body camera videos show the SWAT team racially profiled Stallings, lied in their reports and court proceedings and “used the legal system as a weapon against me,” he wrote. Stetson is the only officer who’s been charged in the case, which led to a $1.5 million city settlement with Stallings.
Stallings said Stetson is being offered a plea deal that allows him to walk away from the incident without a felony on his record, no jail time and a monthly disability pension.
“As the innocent victim in this case, I will have served more jail time as a result of this incident than all of those officers combined,” Stallings wrote. “At the very least, he should be convicted for the felony conduct that is captured on video… Instead, he is being offered the opportunity to walk away with more lenient terms than the average citizen would face for aggravated assault.”
Stallings said a plea deal would continue a cycle of abuse by “malicious officers” and further a “systemic failure to identify and prevent officer misconduct” — the very reason he was out the night he was beaten, protesting the actions of officers like Derek Chauvin, who killed George Floyd.
“On (Stetson’s) face, I saw a smug look that told me he didn’t expect to be held accountable for his violence,” Stallings wrote. “I now know that look well. It is the same that Stetson had when he testified in my prosecution.”
Former law enforcement officer Ian Adams reviewed the case, and concluded Stetson’s use of force was “unreasonable, excessive, and contrary to generally accepted police practice.”
Stetson no longer has an active peace officer’s license in Minnesota; 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.
The other officer who beat Stallings, Sgt. Andrew Bittell, has never been charged, even though body camera videos show he kneed and punched Stallings in the stomach, chest and back. The criminal statute of limitations is set to run out in a few weeks, Stallings’ attorney said, and no officers appear to have been disciplined in connection with the case. Most have since left the department.
Bittell and Stetson testified that 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 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.”
Stetson said during questioning in a court hearing that some members of the SWAT team enjoyed firing the marking rounds at civilians at times as they tried to “gain back control of the city.”
“It was five nights of a complete riot where the city was burning down,” he said.
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 of his hands were behind his back, Stetson said Stallings wasn’t complying with him.
“Again, emotions were high, I just shot — got shot at,” he testified. “I thought I was going to die.”
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