Shooting of Justine Damond
|Date||July 15, 2017|
11:41 p.m. CDT (UTC–5)
|Location||W. 51st Street alley between Washburn and Xerxes avenues, Fulton, Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.|
|Type||Homicide by firearm|
|Participants||MPD Officer Mohamed Noor|
|Convictions||Third-degree murder and manslaughter|
On July 15, 2017, Justine Ruszczyk, also known as Justine Damond, a 40-year-old Australian-American woman, was murdered by Mohamed Noor, a Somali-American Minneapolis Police Department officer, after she had called 9-1-1 to report the possible assault of a woman in an alley behind her house. Noor was ultimately arrested and charged with second-degree manslaughter and third-degree murder following an eight-month investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Hennepin County Attorney's Office. In April 2019, Noor was convicted of third-degree murder and manslaughter, but acquitted of intentional second-degree murder. In June 2019, Noor was sentenced to 12.5 years in prison. Damond's family brought a civil lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis alleging violation of Damond's civil rights, which the city settled for $US20 million, one of the largest-ever settlements in a suit involving a police killing.
Occurring weeks after a high-profile manslaughter trial acquittal in the 2016 police shooting of Philando Castile, also in the Twin Cities metro area, the shooting exacerbated existing tensions and attracted national and international press.
Justine Maia Ruszczyk (April 4, 1977 – July 15, 2017) grew up in the Northern Beaches area of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia and attended Manly High School. She graduated in 2002 from the University of Sydney as a veterinarian, then worked as a spiritual healer and meditation coach. She met Don Damond, a U.S. citizen, while attending a neuroscience workshop. The couple became engaged on December 29, 2014, and planned to marry in August 2017. Ruszczyk had taken Damond's family name ahead of their marriage. Damond held dual Australia and United States citizenship, as her father, John Ruszczyk, holds US citizenship.
Mohamed Mohamed Noor (born October 10, 1985), was the officer who shot Damond. Noor's partner, Matthew Harrity (then 25 years old), was the driver of their squad car. Noor had been lauded in the past by Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges and the local Somali community as one of the first Somali-American police officers in the area. At the time of the shooting, Noor had been with the Minneapolis Police Department for 21 months; Harrity had been on the force for one year.
In two years as a police officer, Noor had three formal complaints against him, two of which, as of September 2017, were pending resolution. In a separate case from May 2017, he is being sued for allegedly assaulting a woman while on duty.
Following the deadly shooting, the Star Tribune reported Noor's police training had been "fast tracked", making reference to the seven-month immersive training program for cadets; some suburban police departments see the cadet programs as a way to add diversity to their police forces quickly. Noor's police training had been part of the cadet program for the Minneapolis Police Department, an accelerated seven-month program aimed at candidates who already have a college degree and wish to enter law enforcement. Former police chief Janeé Harteau stood by Noor's training:
We have a very robust training and hiring process ... This officer completed that training very well, just like every officer. He was very suited to be on the street ... I believe the actions in question go against who we are as a department, how we train, and the expectations we are as a department. These were the actions of one individual.
On July 23, 2017, MPD and Council Member Elizabeth Glidden denied news reports of there being a "fast-track" seven-month MPD training program. In September 2018, it was reported that in 2015 two psychiatrists and other training officers had raised concerns about Noor's fitness for police duty. Two months before the shooting, Noor pointed a gun at the head of a driver he had pulled over for a minor traffic violation.
Damond called 9-1-1 at 11:27 p.m. and then again, eight minutes later, at 11:35 p.m., on the evening of the shooting. She reported that she thought she heard a woman either having sex or being raped. Dispatchers categorized the call as "unknown trouble: female screaming"—a relatively low priority. Officers responded to the area, the low-crime neighborhood of Fulton in southwestern Minneapolis, and found no suspects or signs of the suspected rape that had prompted Damond's telephone calls to 9-1-1.
Officers Noor and Harrity, after driving through an alley with the lights on their police Ford Explorer off, heard no signs of criminal activity. Noor then "entered 'Code Four' into the cruiser's computer, meaning the scene was safe" as the two partners prepared to leave. Harrity then indicated "that he was startled by a loud sound near the squad" and immediately afterward, Ms. Damond approached the driver's side window of the police car. Harrity drew his weapon and pointed it downward, but did not fire. Noor, however, fired a single shot from his weapon through the open window, striking Damond in the chest, killing her. Damond was unarmed and barefoot when she was fatally shot. Harrity later told a supervisor that "We both got spooked." At Noor's trial, Harrity testified that he heard "something hit the car and I also hear some sort of murmur" and that he feared an "ambush," but agreed that it was "premature" to use deadly force. Noor testified that did not see Damond's hand or any object in the hand, but nonetheless believed that his partner "feared for his life" and "there was a threat." At Noor's trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Damond's fingerprints were not on the police car, suggesting she never made contact with it, and prosecutors called two expert witnesses on the police use of force, who testified that Noor's decision to shoot was unreasonable.
Both officers had their body cameras switched off. Minneapolis introduced police body cameras in 2016, but their activation at the time was not mandatory in all situations. As a result, no audio or video recordings captured the killing, although a 16-year-old bicyclist took cell phone video of the scene after the shooting.
Harrity's attorney, Fred Bruno, told the Star Tribune "it's certainly reasonable" to assume any officer would be concerned about an ambush. He referenced the recent death of a New York City officer killed in her squad car.
Damond's family retained attorney Robert Bennett, the same lawyer who represented the family of Philando Castile. In a televised interview, he dismissed the claims of Harrity's attorney (that it was reasonable for the officers to fear ambush) as "disinformation".
The day after the killing, a vigil in Damond's honor was held at the site of her death in the alleyway entrance located on the north side of West 51st Street between Xerxes Avenue South and Washburn Avenue South in Minneapolis. Several days after the killing, hundreds marched to Beard's Plaisance Park in Minneapolis, in honor of Damond. A memorial service for Damond was held on 11 August 2017, on the shore of Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. The service was at the bandshell and there was a silent walk around the lake afterwards. It was attended by Damond's family and fiancé, and about 1000 mourners.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a statement calling the disuse of body cameras "unacceptable". Blue Lives Matter countered, claiming officers making a simple area check have no reason to use them. The ACLU answered that police should at least start recording after a shooting occurs.
On July 19, 2017, Republican Michele Bachmann, who had represented Minnesota's 6th congressional district in the U.S. Congress from January 2007 through January 2015, stated during a speech at the Eighth Annual Hog Roast and Republican gubernatorial forum in Waconia that Noor was an "affirmative-action hire". Speaking to World Net Daily, Bachmann stated, "Noor comes from the mandated cover-up women culture. That's why I'm wondering if they'll ask whether his cultural views led him to shoot her. That's something, if true, I can't imagine the progressives would allow to get out."
This is a shocking killing. It's inexplicable. How can a woman out in the street in her pajamas seeking assistance from the police be shot like that? We are demanding answers on behalf of her family. It's truly a tragic killing there in Minneapolis. Something clearly went tragically wrong. It seems inexplicable. It's a tragic loss.
Investigation and prosecution of Noor
An application for a search warrant to search the alley where the shooting occurred, referring to the shooting incident, stated: "Upon police arrival, a female 'slaps' the back of the patrol squad. After that, it is unknown to BCA agents what exactly happened, but the female became deceased in the alley." Among items collected were fingerprints from the rear cargo door window of the squad car.
Hours after the shooting, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigators controversially obtained a second search warrant and carried out a search of Damond's home for evidence, including 'bodily fluids, controlled substances, and writings'. They did not take anything from the property. Noor refused to speak with investigators, invoking his right against self-incrimination. Noor and Harrity were then on paid administrative leave.
Trial and conviction
On March 20, 2018, a warrant was issued for third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges, and Noor turned himself in to police. He also resigned from the force. With the approval of the court, prosecutors later upgraded the charges against Noor to second-degree intentional murder.
On April 30, 2019, Noor was convicted of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Under Minnesota law, third-degree murder is defined as "a person causing the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and without regard for human life, but without intent to cause the death of any person"; second-degree manslaughter is defined as "whoever by culpable negligence, whereby he creates an unreasonable risk and consciously takes the chance of causing death or great bodily harm to another person, causes the death of another is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree".
The Somali-American Police Association issued a statement after the verdict claiming that racial bias contributed to Noor's conviction.
On June 7, 2019, Noor was sentenced to 12.5 years in prison.
Minneapolis Chief of Police Janeé Harteau was on vacation at the time of Damond's killing, and continued her vacation for four days, rather than immediately returning to Minneapolis after the killing. After returning to the city, Harteau said at a press conference, "Justine didn't have to die...The death of Justine should not have happened." Regarding Noor's refusal to speak to investigators, Harteau said "I would prefer Officer Noor would speak". Less than a week after Damond's killing, Harteau was ousted, after Mayor Betsy Hodges said that she and the city had lost confidence in Harteau's ability to lead. The police shootings were a contributing factor to Hodges losing her bid for reelection in 2017.
Following the shooting, Minneapolis acting police chief Medaria Arradondo announced that police officers would be required to turn on body-worn cameras during all calls and traffic stops. Bob Kroll, the president of the Minneapolis police officers' union, objected to having cameras recording while officers are on the way to a call, saying that officers' discussion of tactics "while responding to a call should not be publicly disseminated."
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