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|
On July 15, 2017, Justine Ruszczyk, also known as Justine Damond, a 40-year-old Australian-American woman, was shot and killed 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 subsequently arrested for murder.
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 identified as the officer who shot Damond. Noor’s partner, Matthew Harrity (then 25 years old), was the driver of their squad car. 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, are 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.
In September 2018, it was revealed that in 2015 two psychiatrists and other training officers had raised concerns about Noor's fitness for police duty.
Damond called 9-1-1 once and then again, eight minutes later, on the evening of the shooting. She reported that she thought she heard a woman either having sex or being raped. Officers searched the area and found no suspects or signs of the suspected rape that had prompted Damond's telephone calls to 9-1-1.
According to the account by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is investigating the shooting, the officers were driving through an alley, the lights on their squad car off, looking for an assault suspect. "Officer Harrity indicated that he was startled by a loud sound near the squad," the statement said. Immediately afterward, Ms. Damond "approached the driver's side window of the squad car. Harrity indicated that Officer Noor discharged his weapon," striking her through the open driver's-side window.
There have been conflicting reports concerning how many times Damond was shot. Some sources have claimed Damond sustained a single shot, while it was also reported elsewhere that Damond was shot multiple times. The officers attempted CPR to no avail; Damond died 20 minutes later.
Both officers had their body cameras switched off. Minneapolis introduced police body cameras in 2016, but their activation is not mandatory in all situations, including rape investigations. According to MPD protocol, officers are required to activate body cameras for "all citizen contact.”
Investigators were looking for an unidentified witness, a bicyclist, who stopped nearby while the officers were administering CPR. They subsequently located and interviewed the bicyclist. While officials have not confirmed nor denied it, it has been reported that this witness recorded at least some portion of the incident.
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".
On July 16, 2017 there was a vigil in her honor 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.
On July 20, 2017, 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.
On July 20, 2017, Minneapolis Chief of Police Janeé Harteau returned from a vacation and told a press conference, "Justine didn't have to die". Harteau said "I would prefer Officer Noor would speak".
The next day, Harteau resigned as police chief, at the request of mayor Betsy Hodges, who said she had lost confidence in the Chief's ability to lead, and that Harteau had lost the confidence of the people of Minneapolis as well.
Harteau was subsequently awarded the national title of Woman Law Enforcement Executive of the Year on August 3, 2017.
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.
Republican Michele Bachmann, who had represented Minnesota's 6th congressional district in the U.S. Congress from January 2007 through January 2015, said that Noor was an "affirmative-action hire," and also said, "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.
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.
On November 29, 2018, prosecutors filed papers stating they wished to upgrade the charges against Noor to include a second-degree murder count, as prosecutors said the evidence shows Noor intended to kill Damond when he aimed and fired at her. Minnesota rules allow criminal complaints to be amended before trial. It will be up to a judge to grant the request. Noor is scheduled to face trial April 1, 2019.
Less than two weeks after the shooting, Minneapolis acting police chief Medaria Arradondo announced that police officer body camera usage would now be mandatory during all calls and traffic stops.
Bob Kroll, the president of the Minneapolis police officers union, said the change was a "knee-jerk reaction", and that the union objects to having cameras recording while officers are on the way to a call. "Officers' tactics discussed with one another while responding to a call should not be publicly disseminated", he said.
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Noor was flagged by two psychiatrists during the pre-hiring evaluation in early 2015 after he exhibited an inability to handle the stress of regular police work and unwillingness to deal with people, according to the records.
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- Videos of Justine Damond Speaking at Lake Harriet Spiritual Community
- Justine Ruszczyk Incident Report
- Justine Ruszczyk Damond at Find a Grave