It’s not just the hubris of believing that because you’re a cop, whatever you do is acceptable no matter how unlawful, vicious or downright stupid, but that the non-cop world ought to somehow know that you’re a cop and just take it.
But as the “Good Guy Curve” makes clear, if some random criminal fires a round at Jaleel Stallings, and Jaleel Stallings, being a good guy, defends himself by returning fire, it’s not a crime. Even if it turns out that the initial shooter in an unmarked van has a shield in his pocket. Even if he’s a cop. It was five days after George Floyd was killed, and an unmarked white van of cops were told to go out and “fuck ’em up.” So they did.
About an hour later, three blocks to the west, they opened the sliding door of the van and began firing plastic rounds at people in a parking lot.
They hit Jaleel K. Stallings, 29, a St. Paul truck driver, who says he didn’t know they were cops because they were inside an unmarked white cargo van with the police lights off. He thought they were real bullets.
Stallings, an army vet, had a licensed gun and did what any good guy would do when he thought some bad guys were shooting at him. He returned fire. When they jumped out of the van and he realized they were cops, he again did what any good guy would do. He dropped his gun and laid face down on the pavement, whereupon the cops did what cops do.
His eye socket was fractured in the beating that followed, with officers later claiming he resisted arrest.
So what if it never occurred to the cops that shooting less-than-lethal rounds at random citizens from inside an unmarked van might not alert their targets to their being police and their targets might end up dead. Cops do not like to be shot at, no matter how at fault they are for the confrontation. So a lesson must be taught, under the invariably useful “resisting” excuse.
Stalling, naturally, was prosecuted for his affront to police control, charged with attempted murder, but was acquitted by jury. He’s now suing for violations of his constitutional rights.
Filed in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota, the lawsuit alleges that 19 Minneapolis officers violated Stallings’ Fourth Amendment rights by using excessive force and his First Amendment rights by using force to intimidate and deter him from protesting police brutality and racism. The suit alleges that officers also violated his 14th Amendment right to due process by conducting a “recklessly-flawed” investigation after the incident, and, lastly, his 14th Amendment right to equal protection by targeting Black civilians with force and false accusations of felonious conduct.
Stallings, who not only did what any good guy would do when he realized that he had fired at cops, but asked, after his beating and during his subsequent interrogation, whether the cops were okay. He’s now suing not only for the injuries caused by their use of excessive force, but by their course of conduct and subsequent lack of accountability.
“These violations are part of a pattern of constitutional violations by the MPD,” the complaint said. “Customs causing constitutional violations were long-known by the MPD and the community at-large before this incident. In fact, it was this historical pattern of constitutional violations and lack of accountability or deterrence that led the community to protest with such intensity after the murder of George Floyd.”
The lawsuit alleges that the involved officers provided false, misleading statements to justify their use of force and concealed evidence to implicate Stallings.
Those false statements and the narrative that Stallings “attempted to kill officers has continued even after his acquittal,” the lawsuit said.
What distinguishes this action isn’t the police conduct, but that Jaleel Stallings was, at every turn, the good guy. His reaction to a random round being fired at him from an unmarked van was lawful self-defense. He possessed a licensed hangun. He surrendered when he realized he had fired on cops and he even inquired, after he got his tune-up, as to the welfare of the police because, now knowing he had fired on cops, he hoped no one was hurt. Jaleel Stallings was the good guy. And despite everything that happened to him along the way, he remained the good guy. Not that it helped him any.
While much about what happened following the murder of George Floyd reflects excesses, wrongdoing and violence on both sides, this case stands out as demonstrating that much of the police narrative doesn’t bear up to scrutiny. At the point where Stallings surrendered, they could have arrested him, even though his reaction was lawful, without beating him. Yet they didn’t. They could have testified truthfully. Yet they didn’t. They could have addressed the myriad flagrant improprieties, from tactical to rhetorical, in the cops’ handling of their tasks that night. Yet they didn’t. And they could have admitted, and dealt with, the concealment of evidence and false testimony by the cops to escape responsibility for their conduct. Yet they didn’t.
Usually, there’s an argument to be made to explain why the police, wrong as they may have ultimately been, weren’t entirely venal in their actions. By having improper, if not criminal, conduct to play against, the police can make a reasonable argument about why their conduct, even if less than good, wasn’t outrageously bad or criminal. Not this time.
What will become of Stallings suit remains to be seen, given that he will likely face the hurdle of a qualified immunity motion to dismiss his causes of action against the cops involved. And whether this will serve as the impetus for change within the department is always a dubious question, given that recognizing the need for changes is usually a prerequisite for reform and improvement. But at least the good guy, Jaleel Stallings, was acquitted and will now have the opportunity to be compensated for the harms outrageously done to the good guy.
H/T Tim Cushing