MINNEAPOLIS — New body camera released as part of a court case shows a behind-the-scenes look at officers on the night of May 30, 2020 – days into the unrest following George Floyd’s death. It shows what some, including a judge, have described as Minneapolis officers targeting civilians violating curfew with 40 mm less lethal rounds.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey called the conduct “galling.”
The video was obtained by defense attorneys for Jaleel Stallings, a man who was tried and acquitted for firing his gun at officers. Body worn and surveillance video shows the officers fired two 40 mm rounds at Stallings first before he returned fire.
The newly released body camera videos capture the hours before officers in Unit 1281 encountered Stallings and show them taking a more aggressive approach with protesters and civilians out past curfew.
“Alright we’re rolling down Lake Street. The first (expletives) we see we’re hammering them with 40s,” Bittell told his unit.
“Yes sir!” they responded.
They were following orders from another officer who told Bittell, “Drive down Lake Street. You see a f..ing group, call it out. OK great. F..k em up. Gas 'em.”
The officers were traveling through the city in an unmarked van, at times encountering groups of civilians.
In one portion of the video they can be seen letting the air our of protesters tires. In another, appearing to lie in wait for a group crossing a bridge, “‘Let 'em come. Let 'em come.” “Ambush,” officers say, waiting for the people to come into view before firing the 40 mm launcher.
In another video taken from Officer Justin Stetson’s body camera, he fires on a person far down the street. “Gotcha,” he says as the round hits the person. Another officer laughs and gives him a fist bump.
The officers appeared to fire the rounds at civilians, even when they weren’t involved in violence, looting or property damage.
In one case, Bittell yelled “Let 'em have it boys. Let 'em have it.” The officers unleashed rounds on a group of people in a parking lot who were guarding their business.
Less lethal rounds can still cause serious injuries. One woman reported she’d lost her sight after being hit with one during the protests.
Judge William Koch also saw the body camera footage and in a pre-trial order wrote the “context of Unit 1281’s conduct is important”, noting that “In the days following Mr. Floyd’s death, some large crowds turned violent…”
Still, he wrote citizens “should expect Unit 1281 would show more discretion, as well as follow MPD policy, before firing 40mm launchers…”
He also referenced “concerning views” of Lt. Johnny Mercil – a use of force trainer for MPD who testified in the trial of Derek Chauvin. He was captured in conversation with another officer from 1281 discussing the race of protesters.
“I love to scatter ‘em. But it’s time to put people in jail,” Mercil says speaking to another officer who agrees. They say they want to “just to prove the mayor wrong about his white supremacists from out of state.” Mercil then adds, “although this group probably is predominately white, cause there’s not looting and fires.”
The mayor’s office released this statement late Tuesday afternoon:
“Mayor Frey has reviewed the footage. The content is galling. Under State law, the mayor is limited on what he can say without exposing the City to legal liability or undermining the disciplinary process. He won’t trade accountability of involved officers for political expediency.”
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo has previously defended his officers saying their actions need to be viewed in context of days of rioting.