Officer Mohamed Noor charged in killing of Justine Damond

Former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor’s mugshot Hennepin County Jail/MGN Online

After an eight-month investigation, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced today that Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the July 15, 2017 shooting death of Justine Damond Ruszczyk.

Damond Ruszczyk, a 40-year-old Australian native, was shot and killed by Officer Noor after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault near her South Minneapolis residence. Her death sparked a national and international outcry and led to the firing of then-Police Chief Janeé Harteau, who was away on vacation at the time.

Justine Damond Ruszczyk (MGN Online)

During the press conference Tuesday, Freeman gave his condolences to Ruszczyk Damond’s family and called her death at the hands of someone she called for help “inexplicable.” He also thanked the grand jury that presided over the six-week investigation on which he based his charges.

Freeman provided details of the criminal complaint, stating, “Despite the fact that no body-worn cameras were operating at the time of the shooting, we know that less than a minute before firing the fatal shot, Officer Noor was sitting in the passenger seat of the police cruiser.

“Noor had just typed into the squad car’s computer ‘Code 4.’ That message, which went to the police dispatcher, meant that the officers had completed their investigation, were safe and needed no assistance.”

Freeman went on to give what he called a “second by second understanding of what happened” the night Ruszczyk Damond was killed, noting that Noor’s partner, Officer Matthew Harrity, said he and Noor were “spooked” after Ruszczyk Damond “came up on the side out of nowhere.” Noor declined to give a statement in the case.

Freeman concluded, “In the short time between when Ms. Ruszczyk Damond approached the squad car and the time that Noor fired the fatal shot, there is no evidence that Officer Noor encountered a threat, appreciated a threat, investigated a threat or confirmed a threat that justified his decision to use deadly force.

“Instead, Officer Noor recklessly and intentionally fired his handgun from the passenger seat, in disregard for human life. Noor was sitting where he was less able than Officer Harrity to see and hear events on the other side of the squad car. Such action violates the criminal law.”

Freeman also explained his use of a grand jury investigation after previously stating that he would no longer use them when deciding officer-involved shootings. He noted that due to the lack of cooperation by some police officers to report what they saw and did in relation to the shooting, “It left us no other choice than to use the investigative powers of the grand jury.”

The grand jury concluded its investigation on Monday. Noor turned himself in to the Hennepin County Jail Tuesday afternoon.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and MPD Chief Medaria Arradondo held a joint press conference Tuesday afternoon where they read written statements and took questions from the press. “It is important to remember that trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve — especially communities of color — was fractured long before last July,” Frey stated.

He added that he will work with Chief Arradondo and City officials to bring about more accountability and that moving forward there will be policies included in the budget to improve community-police relations, which he said “clearly need a lot of work right now.”

Chief Arradondo stated that Officer Noor was officially relieved of his duties at the Minneapolis Police Department today.  He pledged to strengthen efforts to rebuild the trust between the department and the public and pointed to officer de-escalation training and body camera policies as a priority. He also noted that he expects all Minneapolis police officers to fully cooperate with the case.

In a released statement, the NAACP Minneapolis chapter applauded Freeman’s efforts, but implored him to be “courageous” across the board, and stressed the need for a justice system that works for all citizens, not just those with “less melanin.”

Former NAACP Minneapolis chapter president and civil rights attorney Nekima Levy-Pounds struck a similar note in a released statement. Ruszczyk Damond deserves “justice,” said Levy-Pounds, but so did Jamar Clark,  an unarmed Black man who was killed in 2015 by Minneapolis police officers — Freeman chose not to prosecute the officers involved in Clark’s shooting.

“Today Mike Freeman reversed course on his early and long-standing tradition of excusing and justifying the violent behavior of police officers towards residents of Hennepin County,” stated Levy-Pounds. “It is not a coincidence that charges were brought against a Black officer who is also Muslim and Somali.

“Plain and simple, this decision happened the way that it did because Justine was a White, affluent woman from a community that holds the greatest level of political power in the city.”

Levy-Pounds, Justice for Justine — a group of neighbors and friends of Ruszczyk Damond — and other community members, gathered for a rally Tuesday evening on 50th and Washburn in Minneapolis to call for justice for all victims of police violence.

The MSR will continue to follow this story as it develops.

Watch Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman’s full press conference below: