The Minnesota Attorney General's Office has charged an ex-Minneapolis police officer with felony assault for the beating of a man who was surrendering during the unrest following George Floyd's murder.
Justin H. Stetson, 34, is accused of third-degree assault for repeatedly punching and kicking Jaleel Stallings, who was facedown with his arms outstretched on May 30, 2020, in south Minneapolis, according to the felony charge filed Wednesday in Hennepin County District Court. An attorney for Stetson, who was charged by summons, is not listed and attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.
The city did not reveal the reason for Stetson's departure from the department. However, a source with knowledge of the investigation told the Star Tribune that then-interim Police Chief Amelia Huffman fired Stetson in relation to the Stallings case in August.
The beating occurred when officers swarmed Stallings, who had returned fire at officers who shot projectiles at him without warning from an unmarked van, the criminal complaint and police body camera footage revealed.
Upon realizing the van was full of police officers, Stallings surrendered but Stetson repeatedly struck him for 30 seconds while Stallings was "lying prone on the ground, posed no imminent threat, and did not resist Stetson's use of force," Attorney General Keith Ellison's office said in a statement.
Body camera footage shows Stallings repeatedly saying "Listen, listen," while he is punched and kicked, resulting in multiple injuries, including a broken left eye socket.
The Hennepin County Attorney's Office referred the case to the Attorney General's Office in this spring. An expert in use of force reviewed the case, concluding that Stetson's use of force was "unreasonable, excessive, and contrary to generally accepted police practice," according to the criminal complaint.
On the night of Stalling's assault, officers in an unmarked van were driving down Lake Street shortly before 11 p.m. when they shot plastic bullets at Stallings without warning. The event was documented in body camera footage released by Stallings' lawyer, Eric Rice, who declined to comment Wednesday on the assault charge.
In the video, Stallings, an Army veteran, returned fire with a pistol that he had a permit to carry. He said it was an attempt to defend himself against shots from unknown assailants. He dropped face down on the ground when the police raced over to him in a parking lot off Lake Street. He set his gun aside and police struck him repeatedly while screaming obscenities until his face was battered and blood covered the pavement.
Stetson kicked Stallings four times in the face and head and punched him six times, lifted Stallings' head and slammed it back down onto the pavement and also delivered five knee strikes to his face, according to the complaint. He shouted expletives and kept beating Stallings until a sergeant intervened and said, "That's it, stop!" Five seconds later, he told Stetson "It's OK," and grabbed his right wrist before Stetson stopped the assault.
Stallings, 29, was charged with eight felonies, including two counts of attempted murder, rioting and assault with a dangerous weapon. Prosecutors offered him a plea deal that included 12 years in prison, he said.
Instead, he took the case to trial and a jury found him not guilty of all charges. He filed a federal lawsuit accusing 19 Minneapolis officers of violating his constitutional rights by using force to intimidate and deter him from protesting police brutality and racism.
Earlier this year, the city paid Stallings a $1.5 million settlement. The city of Minneapolis has paid millions of dollars to settle claims of police brutality for officer misconduct in the week following Floyd's murder by a police officer.
Stallings has since moved away from Minnesota.
Mike Freeman, who is retiring as Hennepin County attorney after 24 years, said in an interview Wednesday that he knew Ellison was taking steps to charge Stetson and he believed it was the right thing to do.
"As I said before, we were grossly misled by the police officers and I'm disappointed with that," Freeman said. "These officers acted inappropriately and illegally and they should be held accountable for their actions."
However, prosecutors in Freeman's office had access to the body camera footage as evidence when they charged and tried Stallings before his acquittal, which was first reported by the Minnesota Reformer.
Employment records show that Stetson was first hired by the city in 2008, becoming a sworn MPD officer in 2011.
During his tenure, the local watchdog group Citizens United Against Police Brutality found that Stetson had been the subject of at least 12 internal affairs and civilian review complaints, according a database maintained by the group. Most of the complaints were closed without discipline, while three remain open and one brought a letter of reprimand.
Stetson's peace officer's license is no longer active in Minnesota.
Star Tribune Staff writer Liz Sawyer contributed to this report.