BCA finishes investigation of Minneapolis police shooting of Justine Damond shooting

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has completed its investigation into the July 15 officer-involved shooting death of Justine Damond in Minneapolis. The BCA has turned its findings over to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office for review.

"As it has throughout this investigation, the BCA will continue to work with the county attorney as needed to provide any additional information that they deem appropriate as they review the case," the BCA said. "The investigation remains open during the review process. The BCA will follow the law and release all public data once the case is closed as we would in any other investigation. Any information regarding the review of the case will come from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office."

Two weeks ago Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced that he expected to make a charging decision by next year. Freeman said his office is using the same protocol it followed for the last three officer-involved shootings, which requires a completed investigation by the BCA. 

Statement from Hennepin County Attorney's Office

"The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension today submitted to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office its investigation into the shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond by a Minneapolis Police Officer.

"We appreciate the hard work the BCA has put into investigating the July 15th shooting. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and several senior prosecutors will now carefully review the case file to determine what, if any, charges might be brought. As is often the case in these types of investigations, the county attorney’s office will remain in contact with the BCA and may ask for additional investigation during this review.

"Neither the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, nor County Attorney Freeman, will have any further comment at this time."

Tuesday afternoon, Freeman spoke about the charges against the woman who struck and killed a Wayzata police officer with her car. When asked about the Damond case, Freeman said, “I’m not going to say anything more about the Damond case. We now have it. And we’ll proceed very carefully on this. It would not surprise you at all that officer involved shooting cases are handled as carefully as we possibly can. And yours truly will read every word, and with the help of some great senior prosecutors, I’ll make the call.” 

Statement from Justine's fiance, Don Damond

"The BCA has concluded its investigation, but the wait continues for Justine’s family and me. We want to see justice for Justine, and hope that the Hennepin County Attorney will act swiftly to review the findings and determine charges."

IN-DEPTH: The Minneapolis police shooting of Justine Damond

The BCA just recently received the unredacted personnel files on Officer Mohamed Noor, through a search warrant. This evidence fills out details on the background of Officer Noor, who fired the fatal shot from the passenger seat of a police cruiser, and his partner Matthew Harrity, who was driving the car at the time.

Damond -- a soon-to-be-married Australian national and meditation teacher in Minneapolis -- had called 911 twice that night to report a potential sexual assault, drawing officers down the alleyway before she ran out of her house and slapped the back of their car, startling the officers.

FULL TRANSCRIPT: Justine Damond's two 911 calls

The incident ultimately led to the resignation of Police Chief Janeé Harteau, who was replaced by her assistant, Medaria Arradondo. 

Statement from Ruszczyk family

"We continue to wait for answers as the investigation into Justine’s death progresses. We understand that the Hennepin County Attorney will now review the investigation and continue to work with the BCA to address any matters that require further investigation.

We hope that the process from here will be transparent, that there is no stone left unturned. We trust that the Hennepin County Attorney’s determination will be based on an astute assessment of the facts.

No family should have to go through the pain that we have been through and we continue to hope for Justice for Justine."

No bodycam footage of shooting

A short press release from the BCA, which leads the independent investigations into Minneapolis police shootings, gave a bare-bones outline of the evening’s events:

A police officer fired his weapon and killed a woman whose identity will be released by the medical examiner pending an autopsy. No weapons were recovered from the scene. The officer’s body cameras were turned off at the time and the dashboard camera did not capture any video of the incident. More information will be available soon.

That middle portion would became very important very quickly—Minneapolis police released its final body camera policy last year, which indicates that the devices should be activated prior to any use of force, or at least in the immediate aftermath.

Mayor Betsy Hodges and the then-Assistant Police Chief Arradondo held a press conference to explain the details, though at one point the mayor said she was “heartsick” and “deeply disturbed” by the shooting.

That afternoon, we learned the victim’s name -- Justine Damond (legal name  Justine Ruszczyk). We learned she was a native Australian, a soon-to-be-married meditation teacher who lived in the neighborhood and had called 911 just minutes prior to report what she thought was a sexual assault. That night a large vigil, complete with heartfelt statements from family and friends and calls to end police violence, brought people back to the corner of West 51st Street and Washburn Avenue. Her fiancé, Don Damond, and his son Zach each talked, speaking to an emotional crowd gathered around a makeshift podium.

VIDEO: Family, friends mourn Australian woman fatally shot by police

Officer Mohamed Noor

The Monday after the shooting, the police officer’s name was confirmed. Mohamed Noor, the Fifth Precinct’s first Somali-American police officer, expressed his condolences to the victim’s family in a statement. He was three months shy of his second year with the department and a well-respected member of his community according to everyone willing to speak on the subject.

“He came to the United States at a young age and is thankful to have had so many opportunities,” his lawyer from the Tom Plunkett Law Office said in the statement. “The current environment for police is difficult, but Officer Noor accepts this as part of his calling.”

Ultimately, he declined to speak with the BCA. It’s his right under the same Fifth Amendment that protects regular citizens, but many in the community, most notably Mayor Betsy Hodges, said they wish he would tell his side of the story.

Statement from Officer Noor's lawyer:

"Officer Mohamed Noor extends his condolences to the family and anyone else who has been touched by this event. He takes their loss seriously and keeps them in his daily thoughts and prayers.

"He came to the United States at a young age and is thankful to have had so many opportunities. He takes these events very seriously because, for him, being a police officer is a calling. He joined the police force to serve the community and to protect the people he serves. Officer Noor is a caring person with a family he loves and he empathizes with the loss others are experiencing.

"The current environment for police is difficult, but Officer Noor accepts this as part of his calling. We would like to say more, and will in the future. At this time, however, there are several investigations ongoing and Officer Noor wants to respect the privacy to the family and asks the same in return during this difficult period."

The 911 calls and the other officer's story

Noor’s partner—Officer Matthew Harrity— however, gave his account of events to investigators.

911 tapes show Damond called police at 11:27 p.m. to report what she believed was a sexual assault happening behind her house, saying she heard screaming and possibly the word “help.”

“We’ve already got help on the way,” they said.

She gave dispatchers her address, as well as her name and phone number, and hung up. Almost 10 minutes later, she called again.

“I was wondering if they got the address wrong.”

Two minutes later, the officers arrived.

According to both Harrity’s account and a police report, the two officers drove through the alleyway between Washburn and Xerxes, heading northbound between 52nd and 51st Street behind Damond’s house. Harrity said he was driving and Noor was in the front passenger seat as their car approached 51st Street when a loud noise, later identified in a search warrant as Damond "slapping" their squad car, startled the pair.

Immediately afterward Damond approached the driver’s side door of the car, and Noor fired through the open window. She was struck, and though both officers attempted to provide aid, she was pronounced dead at the scene.

Mayor asks for patience

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension took over all “critical incident” investigations regarding police officers in 2014 at the request of the City of Minneapolis, meaning that even if they wanted to share more information with the public, they do not have access to it—until the BCA investigation concludes or the criminal trial ends, depending on whether Noor is charged.

Hodges, in various public statements, laments that fact but ultimately always asks for patience as the investigation proceeds.

“I have a lot of questions, as you do,” she said at a press conference Monday. “Many of you have asked why the officers’ body cameras weren’t activated, and I’m asking the same question. Right now, we don’t know.”

Without any video, and the only potential witness riding away down West 51st Street on a bicycle as officers provided aid, the path to conviction is long and fraught for any prosecutor. 

“To prove that a police officer used unreasonable force in causing death of a citizen is a very high burden,” Former Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner said. “The case law is favorable. They have a tough job and we’re reluctant to second guess their decisions.”

Harteau returns, then resigns

Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau was out of town when the shooting occurred, not returning for more than four days while "backpacking in the mountains." Her remote location, she said, made it difficult to return--though city officials maintain nothing that needed to happen was impacted by her absence.

In her first statement since the fatal officer-involved shooting, she had some strong words to share.

"On our squad cars you will find the words, 'To protect with courage and serve with compassion,'" Harteau said as the press conference opened. "This did not happen."

She said the MPD is  looking into technology that activates body cameras when service weapons are unholstered or squad car lights are activated, though the first priority is still to make turning on the cameras second nature--something that hasn't happened since the devices became standard issue. In spite of this, she said the devices should have been activated.

Harteau resigned from her position at the request of Mayor Betsy Hodges. The president of the Minneapolis police union called it "long overdue." Protesters of the shooting interrupted Mayor Hodges' press conference about Harteau resigning. A protester called for Hodges' resignation as well.

Page One news in Australia

Newspapers and television programs, in various languages and formats and media all blasted Justine’s smiling face to the ends of the earth in the days following her death.

Her family's pleas for justice seemed to fall on deaf ears across an ocean.

“AMERICAN NIGHTMARE,” Sydney’s Daily Telegraph proclaimed on its front page. Another article quoted multiple friends who recalled Damond’s only fear about moving to the United States—guns, and police who aren’t afraid to use them.

The Australian Prime Minister took to the airwaves on Australia’s Today Show to “demand answers,” calling the shooting “inexplicable.”

“It would have never happened here,” a New York Times’ editor in Australia wrote. A mass shooting in 1996 transformed the way people there think about firearms, with stringent, standardized gun laws enacted across the country—and by extension, lowering the number of shootings dramatically.

As Australians gathered to mourn, television crews and writers from across the country boarded flights to Minnesota, eager to investigate the events that led to her death.

“It’s page one news,” one reporter said.