The city of Minneapolis has agreed to pay $1.5 million plus legal fees to a 29-year-old St. Paul man found not guilty last year on charges related to shooting at police officers during the unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd in 2020.
In the days after Floyd's killing, with a curfew in effect, police officers roving in an unmarked van shot plastic bullets at Jaleel Stallings without warning. The event was documented in body-camera footage released by Stallings' lawyer after his story was first reported by the Minnesota Reformer. Stallings returned fire with a pistol, which he had a permit to legally carry, in what he later described as an attempt to defend himself against shots from unknown assailants.
A swarm of officers descended on Stallings. Body-camera and security footage shows him surrendering once police identify themselves, and the officers punching and kicking him repeatedly while he was face down in a parking lot.
After a jury found him not guilty 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. The city attorney offered a settlement in the case, which Stallings accepted, according to court documents filed Tuesday. The offer says the city and police are not admitting liability and that they "expressly deny the validity of [Stallings] claims."
In an interview Tuesday, Stallings said he's satisfied with the outcome, because it "validates the harm" he faced.
"But it's disappointing, because the goal of the civil suit was not a check," he said. "It was getting justice and accountability. And I don't feel like I've received that. I don't feel like anything has been done to hold the officers accountable or change the culture of policing that leads to these incidents."
In a statement, Deputy Minneapolis City Attorney Erik Nilsson said his office agreed to the settlement in consultation with the City Council. "The city hopes that an early resolution to this matter will allow all of the parties to move forward," he said.
The body-camera footage released by Stallings' lawyer, Eric Rice, showed the police response to the unrest from the point of view of officers patrolling the streets of south Minneapolis firing without provocation or warning at passersby. Lt. Johnny Mercil can be heard saying he believed a group of protesters were white "because there's not looting," while Cmdr. Bruce Folkens boasted about "hunting people." Both have since left the department.
"I'm grateful that we had the opportunity to release that body-cam footage to the public so they could see and come to their own opinions and conclusions about what happened that night, how police were using force throughout those riots," said Stallings.
The footage also showed a starkly different version of the Stallings encounter than the police narrative.
On May 30, 2020, just before 11 p.m., the officers were driving down Lake Street, with an officer firing plastic bullets from the open sliding door of the unmarked van. "Go home!" the officers shouted at people after shooting at them.
Stallings was standing in a parking lot with two other men. The Army veteran later said he thought someone from the dark cargo van was shooting real bullets, referring to warnings that day from Gov. Tim Walz that white supremacists were stalking the city in unmarked vehicles. Stallings took cover behind a truck and fired back, hitting the police van, the video shows.
Police raced over to Stallings, identifying themselves. Footage shows Stallings dropping face down on the ground, setting his gun aside. Police strike him repeatedly, screaming obscenities, until his face is battered and blood is spilled on the pavement. "You [expletive] shoot the cops?!"
"Who are our shooters?" an officer asks another on the scene.
"Nobody — he shot at us," replies the other, falsely.
Stallings was charged with eight felonies, including two counts of attempted murder, rioting and assault with a dangerous weapon. In the criminal complaint, the officers said they kicked Stallings because he resisted arrest.
Stallings said prosecutors offered him a plea deal that included 12 years in prison. He said he believed he was innocent, and he couldn't live with himself taking a plea. A jury found Stallings not guilty by reason of self defense last year on all counts. "It has completely been a 180" since then, he said.
Many of Stallings' claims in the lawsuit about the police department's culture were echoed by a Minnesota Department of Human Rights report published last month, which found a pattern of racist policing in the Minneapolis Police Department.
"Jaleel's case is not a one-off incident," said Rice. "This came out of a policing culture that is talked about in that report. Our focus now is to work to make sure this doesn't happen again, that there is a culture shift and that our efforts in this case can be used to improve the system, and make the criminal justice system focused on justice."
Stallings moved out of state a month ago. "I just didn't feel comfortable staying in Minnesota out of fear of retaliation," he said.
This is the latest in a flurry of expensive payouts from the city related to police misconduct lawsuits stemming from the protests and riots following Floyd's killing. Last month, the City Council approved a total of $1.8 million to two women who say police shot them in the face with projectiles while they peacefully protested Floyd's murder. The city agreed to pay $2.4 million in March to Soren Stevenson, who lost his left eye to a 40mm blunt-impact projectile while standing with a group of protesters before police issued a dispersal order.