The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office has charged a former Minneapolis police officer with violating a Black man’s civil rights during the 2020 summer of civil unrest.
The state’s top attorney, Attorney General Keith Ellison, alleges the cop used unnecessary and excessive force when detaining a suspect, even though the man surrendered to them after he shot at other officers in self-defense during a riot following George Floyd‘s murder.
According to the complaint filed by the state, assistant special agent-in-charge with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Dawn Johnson investigated Justin Stetson, 34, and determined he went against the Minneapolis Police Department’s policy when he assaulted Jaleel Stallings on May 30, 2020.
Stetson faces up to five years in prison if convicted, CBS News reports.
The investigation included information Johnson pulled from “other BCA agents and other law enforcement agencies; witness interviews; and other records and evidence” and discovery she received through her own interviews. Johnson added she did not include every fact she discovered during the investigation but submitted only the information she believed was “necessary to establish probable cause” for a conviction.
Some of the facts, MPR News reports, were that a few days after Floyd was killed by former officer Derek Chauvin, Stallings, a Black man, attended a protest with friends intending to join an all-night vigil for Floyd at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue.
While on their way, the group was deterred by roadblocks and ended up in a parking lot at Lake Street and 15th Avenue.
An Army veteran, Stallings, then said he pulled out his licensed 9mm pistol in response to rumors about a white supremacist gang infiltrating the street demonstration.
The man said he witnessed a white unmarked van driving close to the group.
“As soon as I saw the van come into view, shots were fired. At that point, I didn’t have time to speculate on who was in the van, who was shooting at me, or whatnot. I had to react,” Stallings said.
The man was struck in the chest with a green 40 mm marking round, a foam-tipped crowd-control projectile, from someone in the van. Stallings could be heard on body-camera footage apologizing to the officers when he realizes his mistake.
Officers, including Stetson, were out enforcing a city-wide curfew and stopped after seeing four people in a parking lot, the complaint states. The cops then opened fire on the four with rubber bullets, hitting Stallings.
Stallings shot back three times but did not strike anyone. Once realizing the men in the van were police officers, he gave up his weapon and surrendered to authorities.
The complaint stated, “Officers exited the van, yelled ‘Shots Fired!’ and rushed toward the four individuals in the parking lot,” causing Stallings to “then put his gun down and laid prone
on the ground … with his arms outstretched above his head and palms facedown.”
According to the claim, Stetson approached an injured Stallings, lying face down on the pavement, and shouted, “Get on the ground, dude!”
The former officer kicked the suspect in the head 10 seconds after he “verbally acknowledged” Stallings had surrendered, according to the complaint.
“Get on the ground, dude!” Stetson ordered.
“At that time, J.K.S. was already lying prone on the ground, which Defendant Stetson observed and verbally acknowledged at 10:53:19 P.M.,” the complaint says.
Stetson kicked Stallings in his face and head at least three more times and then punched him “approximately six times” in his head. The officer then lifted Stallings’ head from the pavement and slammed it back down once, according to the complaint. He then kicked him five times with his knee in the face.
“Defendant Stetson gave no additional commands to J.K.S. until after he had kicked and kneed J.K.S. multiple times,” the complaint says.
After the assault, Stetson finally gave his first command saying to Stallings, “Get your hands behind your back.”
The complaint alleges Stetson’s assault caused the man to suffer facial injuries, including a broken eye socket.
The officers originally said Stallings resisted arrest. However, security and police body-camera paint a different picture.
Within a week, Stallings was charged by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office with eight felonies. Of those charges, the attorney’s office hit him with two counts of attempted murder.
The prosecutors offered Stallings a plea deal that would mean a 12-year sentence, but he rejected it and opted to go to trial.
During his testimony at his trial in July 2021, Stallings told a jury he fired his firearm in self-defense. His legal team also played a video that contradicted what the police said happened that day, a move that resulted in the jury acquitting Stallings of all charges.
The city of Minneapolis subsequently settled a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by Stallings in October 2021 for $1.5 million.
The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, the union that represents MPD employees, is standing by Stetson. In a statement released on Thursday, Dec. 29, the organization said it was “disappointed” by the criminal complaint.
“Officer Stetson was fired upon by an individual while enforcing the Governor’s curfew order,” it reads.
“Officers believed that individual had just tried to kill them. Officer Stetson and others moved towards the danger,” the announcement continued before stressing the extreme dangers officers face each day. “It was less than 30 seconds from the time the shots were fired at officers and the encounter with [the] individual who shot at them.”
“It is easy to look at this incident and judge it in hindsight and draw conclusions. It casts aside the raw, gritty, and overwhelming aspects of what it meant to live through the riots. It does nothing to address the systemic failures of the Department or City leadership or Governor Walz. It further demonizes the MPD and makes former Officer Stetson the criminal scapegoat of an incident that encompasses so much more than that of the words in the complaint,” the statement says.
Stetson’s peace officer’s license now appears to be “inactive” on the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training list, despite expiring in June 2023.
It also does not list any disciplinary actions the department has taken against him.
Stetson’s first court appearance in relation to this case is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 19.