Among the thousands of social media dispatches that gripped the world following George Floyd's murder, footage from the parking lot of a Lake Street gas station on the fifth consecutive night of civil unrest stood out.

"Press!" Vice News reporter Michael Anthony Adams yelled nearly a dozen times the night of May 30, 2020, waving his credential as riot cops approached him with guns drawn.

"I don't care, get down," one officer responded, before shoving him to the pavement. While he lay prone, Minneapolis police Sgt. Ron Stenerson pepper-sprayed him in the face and strolled away.

Footage of the incident garnered more than 5 million views, made national headlines and was later cited by the U.S. Department of Justice as one of the most flagrant examples of free speech violations by Minneapolis police — one among many findings that the department engages in a pattern and practice of discriminatory behavior. Reporters brutalized by police while covering the riots made up a small portion of the $47 million in settlements paid out by the city in the aftermath of Floyd's killing.

Until now, Stenerson was never publicly identified, leaving community members to wonder whether his conduct ever resulted in any reprimand. But disciplinary records obtained by the Star Tribune reveal that then-Chief Medaria Arradondo moved to fire the 29-year veteran of the force for his "unethical and egregious" actions that day.

However, due to Stenerson's military veteran status, he remained on the job during the grievance process and resigned instead on July 8, 2021.

Arradondo was first alerted to Stenerson's behavior when Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell, who acted as a special operations spokesman during the 2020 uprising, filed a complaint with the department in June.

"I believe the conduct to be wholly inappropriate and contrary to MPD policy," Schnell wrote in an email that was later shared with members of Gov. Tim Walz's staff.

On April 8, 2021, Arradondo issued a three-page memo delivering his decision to terminate.

An internal affairs investigation found that Stenerson did not activate his body camera or document the use of a chemical agent at the gas station, despite being caught on video spraying Adams and other members of the press that night, records show.

"Sergeants must set the proper example of leadership. ... They must be professional, active and fair," Arradondo wrote, noting that Stenerson had received extensive training on the policy around and psychological effects of chemical agents deployed by police. "Sergeant Stenerson has forfeited his opportunity to serve as a Minneapolis Police Sergeant."

Stenerson, 63, did not return messages seeking comment.

In an interview, Adams explained that he never filed a formal complaint against Stenerson, instead opting to publish a first-person account that let "the reporting speak for itself."

The Emmy award-winning international correspondent had come to expect law enforcement in certain countries — particularly Turkey and South Sudan — to victimize journalists covering conflict. But in those places, there's typically a language barrier with local police.

"It felt very personal," Adams said of his treatment in Minneapolis. "I look back on what happened that night and think I did everything right: I complied. I got down on the ground. I identified as 'press.' "

In the aftermath, Adams said the FBI doggedly pursued an interview with him and the other three members of the Vice team, who respectfully declined to participate in their investigation.

The altercation marked just one of many instances of police targeting, arresting and injuring members of the media, who were exempt from the curfew, during the week following Floyd's murder. It was also later cited in a successful class action lawsuit against the city and numerous law enforcement agencies.

"MPD retaliates against journalists and unlawfully restricts their access during protests," Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said during the news conference announcing a pattern of discriminatory policing earlier in June.

Asked whether Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O'Hara would direct his department to investigate each incident laid out in the DOJ findings report, a department spokesperson said the city "is working to identify the events described in the DOJ's report and has asked DOJ for case numbers associated with those events."

Accolades and complaints

Stenerson joined the department in 1992 and won early praise with a medal of valor for helping shield two people from a drive-by shooting in south Minneapolis.

In 2000, after several years working as a juvenile investigator, he was named the state's officer of the year by the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association for solving a series of complex cases lacking eye witnesses or involving those unwilling to testify.

Yet, he was also the subject of 13 civilian complaints over his tenure and named in multiple police brutality lawsuits — including one in the late-'90s that cost the city more than $260,000.

In that case, a Hennepin County jury sided with a Minneapolis landlord who claimed that he suffered two black eyes and facial cuts when Stenerson picked him up by the neck and slammed him into the floor of a south Minneapolis apartment building.

Stenerson was the lead detective in a 2017 botched rape investigation against a University of Minnesota law professor who spent three weeks in jail before charges were dropped for lack of evidence.

A review of police and court records found that Stenerson failed to corroborate key elements of the accusers' claims before submitting a recommendation of probable cause to the Hennepin County Attorney's Office. Amid the fallout, MPD vowed to launch an internal investigation into its handling of the case.

The Star Tribune filed a data request for Stenerson's full personnel file but did not receive it in time for publication.

In retirement, Stenerson now collects an annual pension of $85,432, state records show.

A similar encounter

On May 30, as fires smoldered on Lake Street and the National Guard rolled in to help regain order, officers in an unmarked cargo van went 'hunting' civilians, according to a commander's remarks captured on body camera footage.

Approximately 10 minutes after Stenerson's encounter with Adams at the gas station, several members of the same SWAT team began firing 40mm marking rounds at people gathered in a parking lot three blocks to the west.

Jaleel Stallings, a 29-year-old Army veteran and legal gun owner, returned fire with a pistol in what he later described as an attempt to defend himself from unknown assailants. A swarm of officers descended on Stallings, who surrendered once police identified themselves. But the officers continued punching and kicking him while he was lying face down on the pavement.

In his official report, Stenerson wrote that Stallings was "physically fighting with multiple swat officers" and described his behavior as as "actively resisting arrest."

That account later proved false with the release of video evidence.

After a jury acquitted him of attempted murder and assault, Stallings filed a federal lawsuit asserting that 19 Minneapolis officers violated his constitutional rights by using force to intimidate and deter him from protesting police brutality and racism. Stenerson, specifically, is called out for witnessing the abuse of force and failing to intervene.

The city agreed to pay $1.5 million plus legal fees to settle the case.

MPD moved to fire three officers named in Stallings' lawsuit — Justin Stetson, Sgt. Matthew Severance, and Stenerson, according to sources with knowledge of the investigations. Stetson, the officer who brutalized Stallings, was later charged and convicted of assault. Severance, meanwhile, was caught on the radio encouraging SWAT members to "Drive down Lake Street. You see a group, call it out. OK great! F--- 'em up, gas 'em, f--- 'em up."

He resigned in lieu of termination.

Staff librarian John Wareham contributed research for this article.