MINNEAPOLIS — Public safety was already the top issue in the upcoming city election, as voters ponder changes to the way policing is done in Minnesota's largest city. Now, recently released body camera footage has sparked controversy over how city hall handles officer misconduct.
Kate Knuth, a former state lawmaker and one of the candidates in the mayor's race, called out incumbent Jacob Frey Tuesday over what was revealed in footage that surfaced during the trial of Jaleel Stallings. She said the public deserves more transparency about the city's oversight of police.
"Is there actually an investigation happening? If there is, why did it take so long to start?" Knuth told reporters a press conference across the street from Minneapolis City Hall.
"And did it only start only after an innocent man, Mr. Stallings, was beaten by MPD, was prosecuted, was exonerated and his story became public through the work of journalists and media?"
A Hennepin County jury ruled that Stallings acted in self-defense in May of 2020 when he fired back at Minneapolis police officers who shot him with a rubber bullet from a moving, unmarked van. He said he feared they were white supremacists who had reportedly converged on the city to capitalize on the chaos.
Surveillance video showed that Stallings dropped his gun and hit the ground face down as soon as he realized the van was filled with officers. But officers kicked and punched him, and then were heard on tape telling fellow police that he had resisted arrest. That narrative of resistance made its way into the criminal complaint as well, which served to undermine the prosecution's claims.
"That was so problematic at a pre-trial evidentiary hearing a judge described MPD officers as not credible because the body cam video showed a different reality than what officers describe in their reports."
It happened during the civil unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd. Officers in the body camera footage are seen rolling down Lake Street looking for curfew violators to target with rubber bullets, also known as less-lethal rounds.
"And last week we learned that officers in their own words were 'hunting' civilians in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder," Knuth said, referring to a comment made in one of the body camera videos by a police commander who as since retired.
Knuth asserted that as the elected official with the ultimate authority over the police department, Mayor Frey should've been working to get to the truth about what happened to Stallings and holding officers accountable sooner.
Frey last week referred to the Stallings video and similar videos as "galling" but cautioned that Minneapolis' Civil Rights Department has a complex and time-consuming process for disciplining someone for their conduct on the job. He warned that even talking about specifics of the case as mayor could result in an arbitrator later reversing the discipline and reinstating officers who have been suspended or fired.
The four top candidates in the mayor's race are split on ballot Question 2, which would amend the city charter to replace the MPD with a new department of public safety. Knuth and Sheila Nezhad both support ballot Question 2, while Mayor Frey and candidate AJ Awed oppose it.
All of Minneapolis, the organization leading the campaign against Question 2, released a new ad Tuesday supporting Frey's reelection.
"We’ve seen challenging times that have shaken Minneapolis, but Mayor Jacob Frey never gave up on us. He kept reaching out and listening," the ad's narrator can be heard saying.
The 30-second spot also points out that Frey is endorsed by the Star Tribune's editorial board and by Gov. Tim Walz.
Knuth suggested that discipline investigations would be happening faster if there wasn't so much turnover in the civil rights department, which includes the city's complaint investigation division.
But the mayor's office has said in the past that data practice laws and personnel policies also limit what the mayor can say about those who are separated from city employment.