Updated: September 02, 2021 04:00 PM
Created: September 02, 2021 11:24 AM
A St. Paul man has been acquitted on all charges in a jury trial stemming from an incident where he shot at Minneapolis police officers in self-defense last summer.
Court records show 28-year-old Jaleel Stallings was acquitted on Wednesday of multiple charges, including two counts of attempted second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree assault, two counts of second-degree assault, second-degree riot and intentional discharge of a firearm that endangers safety.
Stallings claimed self-defense in court.
The incident happened days after the murder of George Floyd by then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. According to the original complaint, officers were allegedly patrolling near 15th Avenue South and Lake Street on May 30, 2020. When officers reached the area of 14th Avenue South, they witnessed a group of people that allegedly dispersed upon seeing police. Police then got out of an unmarked white van, wearing full uniforms and Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) gear. Officers involved were assigned to deploy "non-lethal" rounds to "attempt to disperse crowds" as a curfew was in effect at the time.
This Minneapolis Police SWAT unit, supervised by Sgt. Andrew Bittell, was directed to enforce the mandated curfew and disperse rioters, looters and arsonists. According to Judge William H. Koch, who viewed the body cameras in their entirety and submitted court documents reflecting on it, the officers on that unit also were equipped with 40 mm launchers and rounds of rubber bullets. Department policy states that the purpose of these launchers is "to assist in the de-escalation of potentially violent confrontations." MPD policy also states that the launchers must be marked with an orange barrel, which indicates the weapon is "less-lethal."
Instead, Bittell's group was equipped with black-barrel 40 mm launchers that evening. The weapons were also misused throughout the night by the unit, court records state. At one point, one officer fired a round at a group of protesters who were yelling at law enforcement from a distance. Minneapolis Police Officer Justin Stetson fired the rounds, at one point exclaiming "gotcha" and was heard laughing and fist-bumping another officer. Those individuals police were firing at were not participating in any of the events directed by MPD policy in order to do so, according to court records.
The unit was also directed by Bittell to "draw 'em in, hit 'em," meaning to have the protesters come closer to their unit and shoot them with the 40 mm launchers. According to court documents, one officer called the protesters "p******" after they retreated rather than approach the police unit. The judge wrote that officers continue to harbor "concerning beliefs" through body camera footage that night. Police Lt. Johnny Mercil, who also testified during the Chauvin trial, said it was "time to f***ing put [inaudible] people in jail" just to "prove the mayor wrong about his white supremacists from out of state." Mercil also noted one group of protesters to be "predominantly white," reasoning there would be "no looting or fires" because of their race. Another officer agreed with him, according to court documents.
An unidentified officer gave orders to Bittell, saying, "F*** 'em up, gas 'em, f*** 'em up." Once the unit started making their way down Lake Street, Bittell advised the officers, "the first f***ers we see, we're just hammering 'em with 40s." The driver was also instructed to approach with no lights or sirens activated on the cargo van.
According to court records, police approached the intersection of 17th Avenue and East Lake Street where they witnessed a group of civilians outside a gas station. Bittell advises his unit to "let 'em have it boys!" Officers then began to fire the 40 mm rounds without notifying their presence. Afterward, police learned that the individuals gathered outside the gas station included the owner and his friends protecting the property. However, the people knew they were not exempt from the curfew active at the time, including Stallings. Bittell later testified he thought the group was looting.
Prior to this day and throughout that week, Minnesota officials issued statements that "violent out-of-state agitators, white supremacists, members of organized crime, and possibly foreign actors were instigating violence." Because of this warning, Stallings says he armed himself for personal protection that night.
Stallings was made aware of the unit approaching when a civilian ran past his location at a parking lot near the intersection of 15th Avenue and East Lake Street. The civilian was shouting, "they're shooting, they're shooting!" At no point did Stallings or the people with Stallings identify the people shooting as police. According to Stallings, he wasn't made aware of whom the people shooting at the crowds were, as they never made their presence openly known.
Once the officers spotted Stallings, Bittell informed his unit to "hit 'em," as one rubber bullet hit Stallings in the lower chest area, according to court documents.
After firing his weapon at the officers "three or four times," Stallings, a military veteran, then realized it was police and put his pistol down and laid down on the ground, after police yelled, "shots fired, shots fired." He didn't move for about 20 seconds as the officers approached. Body camera footage shows police kicking and punching Stallings while he was lying on the ground, as stated by the judge in court records.
"You f***cking piece of s***!" Stetson yelled, kicking and punching Stallings in the head and neck, according to court documents. Bittell is also seen kneeing and punching Stallings in the stomach, chest and back. The beating goes on for about 30 seconds before authorities placed him in handcuffs. Stetson reported afterward he may have broken his hand from the impact of hitting Stallings.
Stetson also told responding officers after the incident that Stallings had been resisting, which was also reported in the original criminal complaint and release sent by the Hennepin County Attorney's Office last year. However, the body camera footage showed Stallings not resisting at any point, the judge concluded. Additionally, police reported in the original complaint that Stallings "ran away from law enforcement," which was not seen in the body camera footage.
Police also claimed that the shots Stallings fired hit the van they were in. However, no bullet was recovered in it.
After reviewing the footage, the judge granted the defense an opportunity to claim self-defense in this case. Stallings had a five-day trial presided over by District Judge Tamara Garcia. He was acquitted by the jury of all charges.
As of Thursday, there are no updates on whether any discipline will be handed down to officers involved in this incident.
To see the full transcript of the body camera footage, click here if on the mobile app, or view below. KSTP is working to obtain the footage.
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