Loud noise, then fatal shot, partner says
Authorities release first information on woman’s killing by Minneapolis officer
MINNEAPOLIS — An Australian woman who called 911 to report a possible assault was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer after the officer’s partner was startled by a loud sound near their squad car, the partner told investigators Tuesday.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said Justine Damond, 40, approached the driver’s- side window of the squad car immediately after the driver had been startled by the sound. The officer in the passenger seat, Mohamed Noor, fired his weapon, hitting Damond through the open driver’s-side window, the bureau said.
Th e bureau said its information was based on an interview with the officer driving the car, Matthew Harrity. Harrity was interviewed Tuesday, but Noor declined to be interviewed. The bureau said his attorney did not indicate when, or whether, Noor would talk to investigators, and under the law an interview can’t be compelled.
Messages left with Noor’s attorney, Tom Plunkett, were not immediately returned Tuesday.
Harrity and Noor are on paid administrative leave. Harrity has been with the Minneapolis department for a year, and Noor has been with the department for nearly two.
The information released Tuesday is the first narrative by the bureau since Saturday night’s shooting. According to the bureau, Harrity told investigators that he and Noor responded to a 911 call from Damond about a possible assault near her home about 11:30 p.m. Saturday.
Harrity was driving the squad car as the officers went through an alley to look for an assailant. The car’s lights were off.
Harrity told agents that he was startled by a loud sound near the cruiser, and immediately afterward, Damond approached the driver’s-side window and that is when Noor fired his weapon.
No weapon was found at the scene. The officers did not turn on their body cameras until after the shooting, and the squad car camera also was not activated.
Harrity told investigators that after the shooting, the officers got out of the car and gave Damond immediate medical attention.
Harrity said he and Noor saw a man, estimated to be between 18 and 25, bicycling in the area before the shooting. That man stopped and watched as officers attended to Damond. Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents are asking that man and any other potential witnesses to come forward.
The bureau said that unless more people come forward, there are no additional interviews scheduled.
David Klinger, a criminal-justice professor at the University of Missouri- St. Louis, said police officers can’t be compelled to testify in an outside investigation.
“Police officers are citizens. … They have the same Fifth Amendment right as anyone. They don’t have to give a statement,” Klinger said. “His lawyer might be saying, you’re not going to talk until I feel you’re rested and not under stress.”
In a news conference after the bureau’s update, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said she wished Noor would speak to investigators.
“It’s frustrating to have some of the picture but not all of it,” she said. “We cannot compel officer Noor to make a statement. I wish we could. I wish that he would make a statement.”
Assistant Chief Medaria Arradondo said the department is reviewing its policy on body cameras and was doing so before Damond’s death. Arradondo said the department is just eight months into a departmentwide rollout, and the review includes focusing on how often officers activate them. He said the department wants to increase that frequency.
The city also said it planned to release a transcript of Damond’s 911 call after it is shared with family members. Officials had initially declined to make it public.
The bureau also said forensic testing is being completed and evidence is still being examined. When the investigation is done, the bureau will present all its findings to prosecutors for possible charges.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in an interview today with Australia’s Today show, joined the chorus demanding answers about what happened.
“How can a woman out in the street in her pajamas seeking assistance from police be shot like that? It is a shocking killing,” Turnbull said.
Plunkett released a statement Monday saying Noor extends his condolences to the family and others affected by Damond’s death. The statement said Noor entered the U.S. at a young age and is thankful to have had many opportunities.
“He takes these events very seriously because, for him, being a police officer is a calling,” the statement said. “He joined the police force to serve the community and to protect the people he serves.”
Damond, who was planning to be married next month, was a meditation teacher and life coach. Her maiden name was Justine Ruszczyk, and though she was not yet married, she had already been using her fiance’s last name.
Noor joined the Police Department in March 2015, and his assignment to a Minneapolis neighborhood was publicized by city leaders and the Somali immigrant community.
A city newsletter said hundreds of people attended that event. The newsletter said Noor has a degree in economics and business administration from Augsburg College. Before becoming a police officer, he worked in commercial and residential property management in Minneapolis and in the St. Louis area.
But Noor’s short time on the force has not been without blemish.
Records from the city’s Office of Police Conduct Review show Noor has had three complaints against him. Two are pending, and the third was dismissed without discipline. Under state law, details of open cases and cases that result in no discipline are not released.
Noor was also sued earlier this year after a May 25 incident in which he and other officers took a woman to the hospital for an apparent mental-health crisis. The lawsuit claims Noor and other officers violated the woman’s rights when they entered her home without permission and Noor grabbed her wrist and upper arm. The lawsuit, which is pending, said Noor relaxed his grip when the woman said she had a previous shoulder injury.
“How can a woman out in the street in her pajamas seeking assistance from police be shot like that? It is a shocking killing.” — Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull
A woman leaves flowers Monday at a makeshift memorial in Minneapolis at the scene where a Minneapolis police officer shot and killed Justine Damond of Australia.