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State says Hennepin County attorney must turn over public documents related to Stallings case


State says Hennepin County attorney must turn over public documents related to Stallings case

Nov 28, 2022 | 4:55 pm ET
By Deena Winter
State says Hennepin County attorney must turn over public documents related to Stallings case
Minneapolis police officers mill about after a SWAT team beat and Tased Virgil Lee Jackson Jr. and his friend Jaleel Stallings because Stallings shot back at them after they hit him in the chest with a marking round from an unmarked white cargo van while patrolling Lake Street on May 30, 2020. Screenshot from body camera video.

The Minnesota Data Practices Office recently issued an advisory opinion saying the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office must turn over documents — if it has any — surrounding the Jaleel Stallings’ case that aren’t exempt by attorney-client privilege and don’t reveal an attorney’s work product. 

The non-binding opinion was requested by Stallings’ attorney, Eric Rice, after the prosecutors’ office refused to hand over any public documents in connection with the case. 

Rice knows at a minimum, emails were exchanged between reporters and prosecutors about the case and should be turned over to him under the state public records law.

Stallings was acquitted of eight charges in connection with shooting at Minneapolis police who fired marking rounds at him without warning five days after George Floyd’s police murder. A SWAT team was driving around in an unmarked van, firing at civilians breaking curfew. Unaware they were cops, Stallings later testified that he fired back with a pistol, saying he thought they were white supremacists and purposefully missed to try to scare them off. He was beaten, arrested and painted by prosecutors as a would-be cop killer.

After his acquittal, Stallings sued the city and the city settled the suit for $1.5 million. plus costs and attorneys’ fees. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and FBI are investigating the incident.

Rice requested an opinion from the Data Practices Office after the prosecutors’ office rebuffed his January request for all “correspondence and non-work-product materials” pertaining to the case. 

Minnesota Department of Administration Commissioner Alice Roberts-Davis recently issued an opinion saying not all data held by a government attorney is exempt from disclosure — such as general correspondence with the public or media.

The advisory opinion is a first step toward other legal remedies, such as going to court.

Rice was particularly interested in any documents related to a press release issued by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman after Stallings’ arrest because many details in the release were contradicted by body camera videos. Rice was also curious to see if there were any documents discussing possible corrective measures or training after the criminal case resulted in Stallings’ acquittal. 

Hennepin County prosecutors argued that the Department of Administration commissioner has previously interpreted the state public records law narrowly. The Data Practices Act presumes all government data are public, with some exemptions, such as information protected by attorney-client privilege. Prosecutors had argued that encompasses much of the data in the Stallings case, and added that Rice already had the chance to seek the information during the discovery process for Stallings’ civil suit. 

Rice argued correspondence surrounding media coverage should be public, noting stories were done by the Reformer and numerous other outlets, from the Washington Post to CNN. The resulting “public outcry” surely resulted in public contacts with the office, Rice argued, but the prosecutor’s office turned over no such records.

Rice told the Reformer Monday the documents would allow the public to better understand the operations of government agencies, and he hopes the office produces the information to help add context to how and why Stallings was prosecuted and why false information was released by Freeman and never corrected.

“I expect that the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office will support efforts to promote greater transparency and encourage public trust by producing the requested records fully and completely,” he said.

He said the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office is evaluating the advisory opinion and so far he still hasn’t received any records. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the decision.