MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - The family of Justine Damond has filed a $50 million federal civil rights lawsuit against former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, his partner, police leaders and the city in her shooting death last July.
The lawsuit was filed Monday on behalf of Damond’s father, John Ruszczyk, seeking compensatory damages in excess of $50 million from Noor, Officer Matthew Harrity, former Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau, current Chief Medaria Arrandondo and the City of Minneapolis.
Damond, who also went by Justine Ruszczyk, was shot and killed by Noor in an alley behind her south Minneapolis home. Noor and his partner were responding to Damond’s 911 call to report a possible assault in her neighborhood. When she approached the car, Noor reacted by firing the shot that killed her.
His partner, Officer Matthew Harrity, has said the pair were startled in the dark alley by a smack on the back of their squad car.
Ruszczyk’s attorneys argue the partners were inexperienced and the Minneapolis Police Department had a flawed system for screening officer applicants. The lawsuit also cites the fact the officers disobeyed orders to turn on their body cameras.
The family's attorney, Robert Bennett, said he can't understand how the two officers feared for their lives in that moment.
"They shouldn’t be police officers. They shouldn’t have guns. They should go do something else, not be police officers with guns in the Fulton neighborhood,” he said.
The 45-page page complaint also goes after the City of Minneapolis for how it hires and trains police officers, referencing officers' unwillingness to testify - or what they're calling the "Blue Wall of Silence."
However, Minneapolis Police Union President Bob Kroll disagrees.
"That's not true they [the officers who were subpoenaed] have all been in and provided statements," said Police Federation President Bob Kroll. “There's no blue wall of silence and there never has been. This is a myth that's created by attorneys like Mr. Bennett," Kroll said.
Meanwhile, Bennett also said he's looking for more punitive damages.
“It depends on how upset a jury becomes when you have a completely utterly senseless killing of someone ...a 911 caller who is trying to help someone else,” he said.
Noor is no longer with the Minneapolis Police Department and has since been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He is due back in court in September.
FULL STATEMENT BY JOHN RUSZCZYK:
I have instructed my Attorneys to file a Complaint against Officers Noor, Harrity, and the City of Minneapolis for the violent, unnecessary, and unconstitutional death of my daughter, Justine Maia Ruszczyk.
The damages for the violation of Justine’s most important civil right, the right to life, are immense.
They include the unimaginable suffering she endured from the time the bullet struck her until she died, the loss of her upcoming marriage to her soulmate, Don, the loss of parenthood - something she dearly wanted - the loss of work and play, the loss of special relationships with her friends and family, the loss of economic opportunity, and the loss of the satisfaction of helping others find their way and their peace in this world; something for which she had a unique gift.
In addition, we also seek an award of punitive damages in whatever amount a Federal Jury thinks is proper to send an unmistakable message to these officers and the City of Minneapolis and its Police Department that such conduct is wrong, and will no longer be tolerated.
We want the Minneapolis police culture to be reformed in such a way and to the extent necessary to stop such senseless acts from happening again and again.
As the Complaint shows, the police department’s problems are systemic. Our only real tool is a verdict that is too large to ignore or forget.
If Justine’s family and her friends around the world must forever suffer her loss and endure life in the future without her, it is fitting that important changes should follow that make people safer from and better served by the Minneapolis Police Department.
These changes should make the City of Minneapolis and its Police Department accountable for their actions when those actions are not in accordance with their oath and the U.S. Constitution.
These changes should make the Minneapolis Police Department command and control structure act like they are in control and ensure they act in a manner consistent with their moral and legal obligations to protect the communities they serve.
Justine would have wanted these changes because they are just and because people would benefit from the tragedy of her death.
Justine died in her pajamas trying to help someone else. We cannot not let her death be in vain.