MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A former Minneapolis police officer pleaded guilty Wednesday to assaulting a man during the unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd by another officer in 2020.
Justin Stetson’s guilty plea to a felony charge of third-degree assault means he can never again work as a law enforcement officer in Minnesota. And under the terms, he offered a written apology to Jaleel Stallings that included an acknowledgement that he participated in a harmful institutional culture of policing.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office prosecuted the case, called Stetson’s admission historic. But Stallings filed an objection with the court calling the deal too lenient and saying it fails to hold him accountable because it keeps the former officer out of prison.
Stetson and other officers were enforcing a curfew the night of May 30, 2020, when his group spotted four people in a parking lot. One was Stallings, an Army veteran with a permit to carry a gun. The officers opened fire with rubber bullets. One hit Stallings in the chest. Stallings then fired three shots at the officers’ unmarked van but didn’t hurt anyone. He argued that he thought civilians had attacked him, and that he fired in self-defense.
When Stallings realized they were police, he dropped his gun and lay on the ground. Stetson kicked him in the face and in the head, then punched Stallings multiple times and slammed his head into the pavement, even after Stallings obeyed Stetson’s command to place his hands behind his back, according to the complaint. A sergeant finally told him to stop. The incident was caught on police body camera video.
Stallings suffered a fracture of his eye socket, plus cuts and bruises. He was later acquitted of an attempted murder charge.
Stetson admitted in court Wednesday that he went too far when he assaulted Stallings and that his use force was unreasonable and went beyond what officers legally can do.
“Rarely if ever do police officers plead guilty to using excessive force in the line of duty — and today, Stetson has admitted he did so under color of his official authority, in violation of the law,” Ellison said in a statement.
Stetson must remain law-abiding while he is on probation for two years or he could face the statutory maximum sentence of five years. He also agreed to 30 to 90 days of community service. The state’s guidelines otherwise recommend a stayed sentence or probation. His sentencing is set for Aug. 9.
Stetson also pleaded guilty to a gross misdemeanor charge of misconduct by a public officer. The felony charge will be removed from his record in two years if he complies with his terms of probation.
The city of Minneapolis agreed last year to pay Stallings $1.5 million to settle a federal lawsuit alleging that Stetson and other officers violated his constitutional rights.