An officer can be heard saying, “we’re going to hunt,” in body-camera footage from May 31, 2020, during the George Floyd protests. (Obtained by The Washington Post)
A few days after George Floyd was killed last year, sparking wide-scale protests, a police officer responding to the unrest in Minneapolis remarked to another officer: “You guys are out hunting people.”
The officer said it was “nice to hear” that police had shifted course and planned to “go find some more people, instead of chasing people around.” He called it a “nice change of tempo,” and added, in a comment recorded by a body camera and made public this week: “F— these people.”
Another video captured an officer saying that a group of demonstrators “probably is predominantly , because there’s not looting and fires.” In a different recording, an officer was filmed firing what appear to be rubber bullets toward peaceful demonstrators – many of whom had taken to the streets to protest not only Floyd’s death but the aggressive tactics of a department long accused of racism and brutality.
“Gotcha,” he shouts amid laughter, before fist-bumping another officer.
Body-camera footage shows several officers firing rubber bullets into a crowd of protesters who were shouting that they were unarmed. (Obtained by The Washington Post)
The videos, captured by police body cameras, documented officers speaking derisively about the demonstrators, the news media and Mayor Jacob Frey, D. They were filmed on May 30, 2020, five days after Floyd was killed gasping for air under then-police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee.
The recordings – which range from brief snippets to extended clips – provide fresh insight into the way officers engaged with protesters in the wake of Floyd’s death, as the city reeled from the ongoing demonstrations, looting and fires. They also emerged at a pivotal moment, as voters in Minneapolis consider a ballot measure that could dramatically reshape law enforcement in the city and reverberate nationwide.
Some of the footage was first published by the Minnesota Reformer, a nonprofit news organization. More footage was made public this week by an attorney for Jaleel Stallings, a 29-year-old Black man who was charged with shooting at police amid the unrest following Floyd’s death.
Facing charges of attempted murder and assault, Stallings stood trial in July and was acquitted on all counts that month after he argued that he fired in self-defense, believing he was being attacked by civilians, not police.
The recordings capturing Minneapolis officers are among evidence considered in Stallings’s case. Stallings’s attorney, Eric Rice, has released other evidence in the case as well, including police reports and transcripts.
Minneapolis police body-camera footage from May 30, 2020, shows officers discussing protesters’ races. (Obtained by The Washington Post)
Stallings was accused in a June 2020 criminal complaint of firing three or four shots at approaching police officers. According to the complaint, Minneapolis police officers approached him and other men on May 30, 2020. Officers had already been targeted by gunfire, rocks and debris by that point in Minneapolis, the complaint said.
After an officer fired a “marking round” – or rubber bullet – at him, the complaint said, Stallings fired at the officers. No police reported being struck, though two officers said they believed at the time that other officers were shot, the complaint said.
Rice, Stallings’s attorney, wrote in a letter about the case that Stallings saw what appeared to be a civilian van, heard what sounded like a gunshot and felt pain in his chest. Stallings, a military veteran, believed he was shot, Rice wrote, and had no reason to think police were in the van.
The criminal complaint alleged that after firing at the officers, Stallings fled and ignored police commands to stay down, leading an officer “to use physical force” as he resisted them. Surveillance footage made public in the case last week appears to show Stallings firing his weapon and lying down behind his truck, rather than trying to flee, before officers are seen running up and repeatedly kicking and hitting him.
Rice wrote in his letter that after firing three shots, Stallings heard people shouting “shots fired” and realized police were in the van, so he laid down with his hands visible to avoid being seen as threatening.
A Minneapolis police officer fired rubber bullet at civilians while passing in a moving vehicle. The officers jumped out when their van was hit by bullets. (Obtained by The Washington Post)
According to Rice, prosecutors offered Stallings a plea deal, under which he would plead guilty to the two attempted murder counts and be sentenced to more than 12 years in prison. Stallings instead chose to go to trial, where he faced at least a decade behind bars if convicted, his attorney said.
The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Wednesday about the matter.
Critics have questioned not only how the police treated Stallings but also how the case made it to trial. “Prosecutors saw this video before deciding to charge Mr. Stallings,” said Mary Moriarty, the former chief public defender in Hennepin County who is now running for county attorney.
Rice said Stallings felt it was important to have the materials made public, both to “rebut false allegations” against him and to let people see the evidence for themselves.
“When officers say Mr. Stallings was resisting, it’s important to be able to see the source evidence and examine, was Mr. Stallings resisting?” Rice said in an interview Wednesday. “And if he wasn’t, why did officers make that representation? And if it was false, was it investigated?”
“I hope the attention given to this case can help improve our law enforcement and criminal justice system,” Rice said.
A police spokesman declined to address several questions about the video footage made public in the case, including when the department became aware of what was in the recordings and the status of the officers involved, saying only that a probe was underway.
“Due to an ongoing, internal investigation, The Minneapolis Police Department is not able to comment on these issues,” the spokesman, Officer Garrett Parten, wrote in an email.
Floyd’s death triggered a wave of demonstrations that spread from coast to coast. The Major Cities Chiefs Association, a group of police leaders representing the country’s largest local law enforcement agencies, said in a report last fall that there were more than 8,000 protests between May 25, 2020, and July 31, 2020.
The “vast majority” of these were peaceful, the group said, but a small fraction were marked by looting, vandalism and some violence against police. More than 2,000 officers were injured, the report said.
During the protests, police were recorded using force on demonstrators, including on unarmed protesters, footage that also spread widely online. In one of the most high-profile examples, Buffalo police officers shoved an elderly man and knocked him to the ground, and other officers walked by as he lay unmoving and bleeding.
Months after the largest demonstrations concluded, watchdogs and outside analysts released reports examining how police responded to the unrest. While noting that law enforcement officers were facing difficult, prolonged situations, these reports faulted police for things including their uses of force, treatment of demonstrators and poor planning.
The Denver police, a review found, were “caught by surprise by the size and scale of the protests,” and people in the community believed officers used equipment and tactics “that exacerbated conflicts and led to more uses of force.” In Philadelphia, a review said, police did not properly deploy officers in the early days and then resorted to “at times excessive use of force against protesters.”
A review in New York City found that police used force and tactics that “often failed to discriminate between lawful, peaceful protesters and unlawful actors.”
Chicago police officers failed to turn on body cameras when required, while officers “underreported uses of baton strikes and manual strikes,” leading to an incomplete tally “of severe and potentially out-of-policy uses of force,” a review concluded.
The city of Minneapolis is currently conducting an after-action review of the department’s response to the protests, including the use of less-lethal weaponry. Several city council members have been openly critical of the department, suggesting their aggressive response to demonstrators in the early days after Floyd’s death escalated the chaos and burning of parts of the city.
The Minneapolis police and other local law enforcement agencies are also facing several lawsuits related to their response to the aftermath of Floyd’s death, including suits filed by residents and journalists who say they were injured by rubber bullets fired by police.
According to discipline records made public by MPD, just one officer has been reprimanded for actions taken in the days after Floyd’s death – an officer who anonymously spoke to GQ magazine about the “us versus them” culture inside the department without first getting permission.
This new video footage has also emerged publicly weeks before a vote that could significantly impact policing in the city.
Voters on Nov. 2 will consider a ballot question that would remove the city charter’s requirement that Minneapolis have a minimum number of police officers based on population. The question calls for replacing the Minneapolis police force with a Department of Public Safety which could include police officers “if necessary.”
This proposed amendment has sparked intense emotions in a city still reeling from the trauma of Floyd’s death and the fiery protests that erupted in the aftermath.
Residents are also dealing with a dramatic uptick in violent crime, including record numbers of shootings and homicides, that occurred while scores of Minneapolis police officers left the department. As of last week, more than 200 officers had left the department or were on leave seeking to leave their jobs, more than a third of the force.
Supporters of the ballot measure argue that past efforts to reform the Minneapolis Police Department have failed and that a new department would allow the city to “reimagine” public safety. But opponents, including Frey, have called the ballot initiative an untested “experiment” that could make the city less safe and send it into further chaos.
A spokeswoman for Frey called the footage in the Stallings case “galling” but declined to address it further on Wednesday.
“Under State law, the mayor is limited on what he can say without exposing the City to legal liability or undermining the disciplinary process,” the spokeswoman said. “He won’t trade accountability of involved officers for political expediency.”
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Bailey reported from Minneapolis.