Updated: Thursday at 7:15 p.m; Posted: Wednesday at 5:37 p.m.
The Minnesota Attorney General's Office on Wednesday charged a former Minneapolis police officer with allegedly punching and kicking a man who'd surrendered after shooting at police in self-defense during the unrest and rioting that followed George Floyd’s murder.
Justin Harland Stetson, 34, of Nowthen, Minn. faces one count of felony third-degree assault for the May 30, 2020 attack on 30-year-old Jaleel Stallings.
In the days after former officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd, Stallings attended street demonstrations with friends. In an interview with MPR News in May, Stallings said they had hoped to join an all-night vigil at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue. After encountering road blocks, his group wound up in a parking lot at Lake Street and 15th Avenue.
Stallings, who’s Black, said he holstered his 9 mm pistol after hearing rumors that white supremacist gangs might have been roaming the streets.
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As they were deciding whether to check on a friend’s business or leave for the night, Stallings said an unmarked white van rolled up and someone inside shot him in the chest with a 40 mm marking round, a foam-tipped crowd-control projectile that’s coated with green paint.
“As soon as I saw the van come into view, shots were fired,” Stallings said in May. “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 fired back with his 9 mm handgun but tossed it out of reach and surrendered when he realized the men in the van were police. The bullets did not strike any officers.
According to the criminal complaint against Stetson, the former officer kicked Stallings in the head 10 seconds after Stetson “verbally acknowledged” that Stallings had surrendered.
As Stallings lay face down on the pavement, Stetson kicked Stallings in the face and head at least three other times, punched him in the head “approximately six times,” then allegedly lifted his head from the pavement and slammed it back down. Stallings suffered facial injuries including a broken eye socket.
Michelle Gross, a longtime activist who founded Communities United Against Police Brutality, said Thursday that she’s glad the attorney general’s office took action, but that it shouldn’t have taken them two and a half years. Gross also said Stetson should face more than just the single felony assault charge, and more officers should be held accountable.
“This was a group of cops that stood around and watched while Stetson was fracturing his bones in his face long after he surrendered and posed no danger to them. And further, they initiated this situation in the first place by randomly shooting at members of the community,” Gross said.
Despite security and body camera video that showed otherwise, police said Stallings had resisted arrest. The next week, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office charged him with eight felonies, including two counts of attempted murder.
Stallings rejected a plea deal that included a 12-year sentence. At his trial last year, he testified that he had fired in self-defense, and his attorney played video that contradicted officers’ claims. Jurors acquitted Stallings of all charges. He later reached a $1.5 million settlement with the city of Minneapolis.
Reached Wednesday, Stallings’ attorney Eric A. Rice declined to comment on the charges against Stetson.
Court records do not list an attorney for the former officer. The Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training lists Stetson’s peace officer’s license, which expires in June 2023, as “inactive,” but does not list any disciplinary actions taken against him.
Stetson is scheduled to make his first court appearance Jan. 19.
Editor’s note (Dec. 29): Language was added to this story to clarify that Stallings returned fire in self-defense.