MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - A Minneapolis City Council committee voted Monday to reject the workers’ compensation claim made by Minneapolis police officer Andrew Bittel and return the matter to staff.
The 4-1 vote, taken during the Policy and Government Oversight Committee hearing, returned the matter to city staff for further review.
Sgt. Bittell was one of the officers present during the beating and arrest of Jaleel Stallings during the unrest following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. Stallings eventually reached a $1.5 million settlement with the City of Minneapolis.
"I understand the Council’s frustration because I share it. Generally, these settlements are approved not because the City wants to but because the alternative could be more expensive. That was the reason for the City Attorney’s Office recommendation today," Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement to FOX 9.
This appears to be the first PTSD claim case to be challenged by the City of Minneapolis. At least 155 officers have received workers' compensation settlements totaling nearly $26 million, according to a FOX 9 Investigators analysis of city council minutes and police records last November. Many of those same officers have questionable histories of misconduct.
The City of Minneapolis told FOX 9 since June 1, 2020, MPD employees have filed 864 workers' compensation claims for work-related injuries and illnesses. This figure includes multiple claims by some employees who sustained more than one work-related injury or illness. To date, the city has paid $33,825,505.90 for these claims, which includes wage replacement, medical payments, settlements, and other claim-associated expenses.
Incident details, resulting charges
The episode lasted little more than 30 seconds, but it played out very differently than what was reported by Minneapolis Police, who just days earlier said George Floyd died during a medical episode.
According to the criminal charges against one of the officers involved, Justin Stetson, at 10:53 p.m. on May 30, 2020, he was with a SWAT team driving down East Lake Street at 14th Avenue in a white, unmarked van. The city was under a nighttime curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.
The passenger door of the van was open as Stetson fired a 40mm "less-lethal" round at four men who had gathered in a parking lot to protect local businesses from looting. The 40mm round struck Stallings in the chest, but he was unaware the incoming fire was coming from the police. Stallings responded by firing three rounds in the direction of the unmarked van.
Body camera footage shows police responding quickly to the incoming fire, yelling "shots fired," exiting the van, and converging quickly on the men in the parking lot. Stallings, realizing the unmarked van contained police officers, "put his gun down and laid prone on the ground" with "his arms outstretched above his head and palms facedown," according to the charges.
As Officer Stetson approached, he yelled, "Get on the ground, dude."
Before Stetson even reaches Stallings, he says, "He’s down," and "He’s on the ground." But when Stetson reaches Stallings, who is prone and not resisting, Stetson kicks him in the face and head. He strikes Stallings repeatedly as he yells, "F---ing piece of s—t." According to the charges, in a flurry, Stetson kicked him in the head four times, punched him in the head six times, and delivered five knee strikes to his head. Stetson also slammed Stallings' head into the pavement, before giving his first command, "Get your hands behind your back."
As Sgt. Andrew Bittell holds Stallings' hands behind his back, Stetson continues to strike him.
"That’s it, stop!" Bittell yells at Stetson, as he grabs Stetson’s right wrist, and says, "It’s OK."
Minutes later Sgt. Bittell will falsely claim that Stallings was resisting arrest when asked about his injuries.
Several officers looked at Stallings' injuries, with blood pouring from his face, and mistakenly thought he had been shot.
"He was resisting when we approached. That’s the way it happens. It happens," Sgt. Bittell said falsely.
Stallings acquitted, reaches $1.5 million settlement
Stallings was charged with attempted murder and first-degree assault for firing at an unmarked police van patrolling south Minneapolis during the civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd. Stallings argued self-defense and was acquitted of charges in September 2021.
He reached a $1.5 million settlement with the City of Minneapolis after he filed a lawsuit against the 19 officers on the SWAT team claiming they used excessive force and filed false police reports.