Mayor Frey: Conduct in Minneapolis police body cam footage 'galling'
MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey used the word "galling" to describe police body camera footage showing officers beating a man who had surrendered and talking about "hunting people" during the unrest following George Floyd's killing.
"We need to make sure justice is done," the mayor said, though he stopped short of saying how.
The body camera footage shows police firing "less lethal" weapons at protesters and bystanders, exchanging fist bumps, and saying "(expletive) these people" as they sought to enforce the curfew after days of rioting.
The release came a month before the Nov. 2 election, the first citywide races since Floyd's killing. Minneapolis residents, facing a reckoning over policing, will vote on whether they want to replace the Police Department with a new agency. The debate is happening as the city grapples with an increase in violent crime.
The footage was released Tuesday in connection with the case of Jaleel K. Stallings, 29, who was acquitted on multiple charges after he returned fire at officers who fired a 40 millimeter"marking round" at him from an unmarked van. Stallings said he didn't realize they were police and acted in self-defense.
Stallings' acquittal was first reported by The Minnesota Reformer, which was also the first outlet to release the footage. It was later released to other media by Stallings' attorney, Eric Rice.
Frey, in the final weeks of his first reelection bid, faces renewed scrutiny from some council members and his mayoral challengers, who argue he should have done more to rein in the department.
The incidents happened the night of May 30, 2020 and the early hours of May 31, five days after George Floyd was killed by police and two days after the burning of the police Third Precinct.
The footage shows police riding down the street in a van firing 40-millimeter marking rounds, also known as rubber bullets, without warning at people outside buildings.
The footage then shows them encounter Stallings, who had a permit to carry a firearm in public, and did so because of the threat of white supremacists in the area, crouched behind his pickup in a parking lot near S. 14th Avenue. At 10:53 p.m. an officer fired a single marking round at Stallings, striking him in the chest. Stallings, who according to his attorney did not realize the unmarked van was full of police officers, fired three shots as he ducked for cover.
"Once in cover, Mr. Stallings learned that the occupants of the van were law enforcement officers, and Mr. Stallings immediately surrendered," Rice said in a statement. Nearby surveillance footage shows Stallings immediately go to the ground. Officer Justin Stetson and Sgt. Andrew Bittell punched and kicked Stallings, who did not resist, as he said, "Listen, listen, sir!" before he is pulled to a sitting position, bloodied and dazed.
Stallings faced eight charges, including second-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault, second-degree assault and second-degree riot. He rejected a plea deal from prosecutors that included a nearly 13-year prison term before he took the case to trial this summer in Hennepin District Court and was acquitted.
Police spokesman officer Garrett Parten said Tuesday that an internal affairs investigation is underway and declined to comment further.
The mayor faced quick criticism from some of his 16 challengers this fall.
"He can act right now and take the necessary steps to make it clear that this violent, toxic culture is unacceptable and must be held accountable," candidate Kate Knuth said in a statement. "Instead of providing steady leadership and answers, we have a Mayor who is fighting to uphold the status quo that has gotten us here."
Although not mentioning Frey directly, City Council President Lisa Bender tweeted: "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 in an interview that he would like to discuss the case — and other officers' complaints — in more detail but feared doing so would jeopardize the investigations.
"There is no one that has more incentive to dish on the discipline or terminations underway than me, but there are clear laws stating that if I do our ability to hold officers accountable would be gone," he said. "I'm not willing to trade away what could be a clean disciplinary or termination decisions for political points."
The city's website shows Police Chief Medaria Arradondo issued one suspension and three letters of reprimand this year. For 2020, the site shows one termination, one person resigned in lieu of termination, 26 received letters of reprimand and nine were referred for coaching.
Frey said they can't discipline officers if they leave before an investigation concludes, and that it has been difficult to fully investigate officers who are on "extended leave."
The department is down roughly 200 officers since Floyd's death, because of a combination of retirements, resignations and an unprecedented number of PTSD claims. In a public meeting Wednesday, city staff said employees filed 189 workers' compensations claims for PTSD between the date of Floyd's death and Sept. 2, 2021.
Those are putting pressure on the city's self-insurance fund, which is also used to pay out lawsuits. In addition to the $27 million settlement in Floyd's death, the city also faces lawsuits from protesters and journalists who argued that police used unnecessary force while responding to protests or riots. Those accusations have also been leveled at other agencies operating during the unrest, including the State Patrol.
Other body camera footage released by Rice from that night includes:
—Footage from Stetson's body camera shows him repeatedly firing marking rounds at protesters before yelling "Gotcha!" while officer Kristopher Dauble laughs and the two fist-bump.
—Footage from officer Michael Osbeck's body camera shows him speaking with Lt. Johnny Mercil, who said "(Expletive) these media," and mockingly said, "Hold on a second, let me check your credentials, make a few phone calls to verify ..."
"They think they can do whatever they want," Osbeck said.
"There's a (expletive) curfew," Mercil said.
Media were exempt from the curfews imposed after Floyd's death.
While observing a group and debating whether to make an arrest, Mercil said, "This group probably is predominantly white because there's not looting and fires."
Mercil, who oversees MPD's use of force training, was a prosecution witness in the trial of ex-officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murdering Floyd on May 25, 2020.
—Footage from officer Joseph Adams' body camera shows him commenting that it was a "busy night" to Cmdr. Bruce Folkens, who said, "Tonight it was just nice to hear 'We're gonna find some more people instead of chasing people around ... you guys are out hunting people now, it's just a nice change of tempo ...(Expletive) these people."
(Star Tribune staff members Chao Xiong and Mark Vancleave contributed to this report.)