Bodycam shows Minneapolis officers ‘hunting’ civilians during Floyd protests

By: - October 6, 2021 11:00 am

Credit: Screenshot. Courtesy of the Minnesota Reformer.

Another batch of body camera videos released Tuesday show how Minneapolis police officers became increasingly militaristic in their attempt to clamp down on protesters five days after George Floyd was killed.

They mocked some demonstrators and sought out others who were breaking curfew and fired rubber bullets at them. They made racially tinged remarks, derided the working press and celebrated direct hits with their rubber bullets. As citizens hurled insults at the officers — saying this is exactly the sort of behavior they were protesting — MPD officers continued to fire on people as they fled.

“We’re unarmed!” a woman yelled at the officers in one video. “What are y’all tryin’ to do?”

“Go home!” an officer yelled back.

When a citizen yelled about the police being civil servants, an officer replied “F*** you!”

A woman hollered at the police: “What the f*** are we gonna do to you? We’re out here peacefully protesting; this is f***ing America! We can say what we want!”

That prompted a barrage of shots from officers.

As people chanted “No justice, no peace” and “I’m unarmed,” the officers fired less-lethal rubber bullets along Lake Street in the hours leading up to their arrival at Lake Street and 14th Avenue. That’s where Jaleel Stallings — after being hit with a rubber bullet — fired back with a real gun because, he said, he didn’t know they were cops and thought he’d been hit with a real bullet. The Army veteran would later testify during his trial that he thought they were white supremacists and purposely missed them to try to scare them off.

Earlier, the SWAT team had been joking and laughing as they punctured vehicle tires and fired 40mm rubber bullet launchers at people violating curfew — marveling at their weaponry’s effectiveness.

But everything changed when they came upon Stallings and his friends.

All night, their rubber bullets had prompted citizens to flee or cry out in pain, but Stallings — armed with a pistol for which he had a permit — quickly fired three shots back at the SWAT team’s unmarked white van, prompting the officers to pile out and yell “shots fired.” Once Stallings heard them, he dropped his weapon and went to the ground. Despite his defenseless position, two officers beat him for about 30 seconds and then arrested him.

It was all caught on bodycam and surveillance video.

More than a year after the protests, no officers have been disciplined — except for an officer who violated MPD policy by speaking to a reporter anonymously — and multiple class action lawsuits against the city are pending, including one brought by journalists. An outside review of their response is also being done by a Chicago firm.

After Stallings was acquitted of all eight charges in July — testifying that he acted in self defense — his lawyer, Eric Rice, fought to be allowed to release the bodycam videos. Rice said this is the last of the bodycam videos he will be releasing.

The videos show Sgt. Andrew Bittell — the leader of the SWAT team that fired at Stallings — puncturing the tires of vehicles earlier that night, telling his unit they need to puncture two tires because people can easily change one flat tire.

At one point, after the officers fired on people across a bridge, a person yelled back that someone was hit in the face, but they continued firing. The SWAT team later talked about a group of people approaching, and Bittell said, “Let ’em come.” They discussed ambushing them, and then fired multiple 40mm rounds at the civilians.

Later as the team was near Blaisdell Avenue and Lake Street, where a group of protesters were chanting, an officer told Bittell that when the protesters saw police coming in an alley, they ran away. The SWAT team advanced, firing on them, prompting many to flee. The four people who didn’t were arrested.

One officer told Bittell he disagreed with expending so many resources to enforce the curfew.

“I so disagree with f***in’ doing the curfew s***,” he said. “I mean to spend all this resources on f***ing four arrests — I mean Jesus f***in Christ.”

An officer told Bittell the people were “pusses” because “You get within 30 feet of them and they run.”

“You got to hit ‘em with the 40s,” the sergeant responded.

At one point, the officers were firing from so far away that Bittell didn’t realize he nearly fired at cops before another officer stopped him.

Later, the officers laughed in the back of the van as one talked about “anarchists” they saw earlier. He imitated the cartoon character Elmer Fudd, joking about hunting down the “anarchists.”

After the unit went to Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue, an officer suggested to Bittell that they should go find civilians out past curfew. Bittell agreed, saying they would be the “head of the snake now.”

Later, as their white van made its way down Lake Street, when the unit saw people at the Stop-N-Shop gas station at 17th Avenue, Bittell told the driver to speed up and said, “Let ‘em have it, boys.”

The officers shot multiple rounds at the people at the gas station, not knowing it was the gas station owner, neighbors and relatives guarding the station from more looting, as well as bystanders,  including a Vice News reporter who had his hands up and was yelling, “Press!”

A SWAT team member pushed the reporter to the ground, and as he lay there with his press card up, another officer pepper-sprayed him in the face.

The bodycam of the officer who was driving the SWAT team’s unmarked van showed officers complaining about the media. Lt. Johnny Mercil walked up to the van driver, Michael Osbeck,Jr., and said, “F*** these media.”

“They think they can do whatever they want,” Osbeck said.

Then Mercil implied Black people were responsible for looting and fires, saying, “I got no problem with that; I’d love to scatter ’em but it’s time to f***in’ put people in jail and just prove the mayor wrong about this white supremacist (inaudible). Although this group probably is predominantly white, because there’s not looting and fires.”

An officer agreed.

Mercil was in charge of MPD’s use-of-force training and months later would testify during Derek Chauvin’s murder trial that officers are trained to use the least amount of force needed to meet their objective.

After Stallings was hit with a rubber bullet, fired back, was beaten, arrested and taken to a hospital, an officer secured the scene while it was processed by investigators.

Bodycam video shows MPD Commander Bruce Folkens talking to an officer, and when the officer mentioned that it was a “busy night,” Folkens replied, “It’s nice to hear that we’ve moved to — tonight it was just nice to hear ‘We’re gonna go find some more people.’ Instead of chasing people around… you guys are out hunting people now. It’s just a nice change of tempo.”

“Yep, agreed,” the officer said.

“F*** these people,” Folkens said.

MPD spokesman Garrett Parten declined to comment on the officers’ actions. “Due to the ongoing internal investigation, MPD is unable to comment at this time,” he said.

Updated at 12:22 p.m.  Tuesday to include officer’s name.

This story was originally published by the Minnesota Reformer, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom, which includes the Florida Phoenix.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter is a reporter for the Minnesota Reformer, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom network. Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.