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Man beaten by MPD officer outraged by plea deal

Former MPD officer Justin Stetson is charged with assault and misconduct for the beating of Jaleel Stallings, but a potential deal would allow Stetson to avoid jail.

MINNEAPOLIS — Jaleel Stallings was lying face-first on the ground with his hands up when surveillance video showed Minneapolis police officer Justin Stetson kicking him in the head repeatedly, and striking him nearly a dozen times with his hands and knees.

Now, Stallings says the man who beat him is being offered a plea deal that will spare him any jail time and likely leave him without a felony record.

Stetson has been charged with third-degree assault and gross misdemeanor misconduct by a public officer. The deal is expected to be argued before a judge Wednesday.

"I think what bothers me most is the lack of accountability,” Stallings said in an interview with KARE 11.

The beating occurred on May 30, 2020, while Stetson and his unit were patrolling Lake Street in an unmarked white van amid days of unrest following George Floyd’s murder. 

Body camera video captured the leader of the unit, Sgt. Andrew Bittell, telling the officers, “Alright. We’re rolling down Lake Street. The first (expletives) we see, we’re hamming them with 40s,” which are less lethal rubber bullets.

Video shows them firing unannounced at people walking on the sidewalk before the white van comes across Stallings and a few others standing in a parking lot.

“Hit ‘em,” one of the officers yelled. They fired two rounds of rubber bullets, one of which struck Stallings. Stallings, who served in the military and is licensed to carry, said he believed he’d been hit with a real bullet and returned fire.

“At the time, I fired," Stallings said. "I had no knowledge whatsoever that they were police officers.” 

When he realized they were officers, Stallings can be seen dropping his weapon, lying face-first on the pavement and putting his hands over his head.

Stetson is the first one to approach and can be heard on body-worn camera announcing that “he’s on the ground.” Still, surveillance video showed Stetson approach and kick Stallings in the head. According to court documents, he would kick Stallings multiple times, slam his face on the ground and punch or knee him nearly a dozen times.

Stallings suffered facial fractures in the beating but was charged with attempted murder for shooting at the officers. He faced years in prison.  

At trial, a jury found Stallings not guilty and agreed he acted in self-defense.

The videos only surfaced as part of the trial and as a result of media attention.

None of the officers have been disciplined by Minneapolis police, but the city settled a lawsuit with Stallings for $1.5 million.

Stetson was eventually charged in December 2022 — more than two years after the beating — with assault. The gross misdemeanor charge was added just last week, ahead of the expected plea deal.

The Attorney General who is prosecuting the case declined to comment on the deal, and so did Stetson’s attorney, Fred Bruno.

Minnesota law requires that victims be notified ahead of a plea agreement. Stallings and his attorney said they expect Stetson will be offered a stay of adjudication on the felony assault charge. That means that if he complies with probation, the charge will be dropped and wiped from his record. 

They believe Stetson will be allowed to plead guilty to the gross misdemeanor but any sentence will be stayed, which means no jail time.

Stallings filed an official objection to the agreement with the court, calling the deal “a betrayal of the principles of justice, equity and accountability.”

He also notes that Stetson will be allowed to “walk away from the incident without ‘convicted felon’ marring his reputation, having served no jail time and continuing to receive a monthly disability pension.”

Meanwhile, Stallings says his reputation was ruined when he was labeled an attempted cop killer and he lived not only with the physical effects of the beating but also the fear of going to prison.  

In an interview with KARE 11, he noted, “At this point, as the innocent party, I will have served more jail time as a direct result of this than any of the officers involved.”

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