Freeman. File photo

Freeman. File photo

Investigators in Damond case ‘haven’t done their job,’ Freeman says

Updated: January 3, 2018 - 1:19 pm

The Hennepin County attorney was confronted by activists at a holiday party

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said he hasn’t made a decision on whether or not to charge the Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed Justine Damond because the department’s investigators “haven’t done their job.”

“I’ve got to have the evidence, and I don’t have it yet,” Freeman told a group of activists who confronted him at the party. A recording of the exchange was posted on the Facebook page of Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar, a group formed after Jamar Clark was shot and killed in a November 2015 encounter with Minneapolis police.

“If it isn’t my fault, who didn’t do their job? The investigators,” Freeman continued. “They don’t work for me. They haven’t done their job.”

The activists confronted at a Dec. 13 holiday party for public employees.

Damond, also known as Justine Ruszczyk, was an Australian native who lived in the Fulton neighborhood. She called police July 15 to report a possible assault and was shot by one of the responding officers in the alley behind her home at 51st & Washburn.

Responding to the call were officers Mohamed Noor and Matthew Harrity. According to investigators, Noor apparently fired his weapon through the squad car window after being surprised by a loud sound.

Neither officer’s body camera was active during the incident. Both Noor and Harrity were placed on administrative leave following the shooting, as is standard practice in the department.

At the request of the Minneapolis Police Department, the investigation into the shooting is being handled by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Asked to respond, the BCA provided the following statement:

“The BCA investigates the majority of officer involved shooting incidents in Minnesota because of our thorough and professional approach to ensuring the integrity of an investigation.

“BCA agents and scientists do extensive work to gather all the facts and evidence in order to conduct comprehensive investigations that are then presented to county attorneys for review of possible charges.

“The BCA has consulted with the Hennepin County Attorney’s office from the beginning of this investigation and will continue to work with that office as needed to provide any additional information that they deem appropriate as they review the case.”

Gov. Mark Dayton defended the agency in a statement provided to the media.

“The BCA is asked to investigate some of the toughest, most complex cases involving officer-involved shootings,” Dayton said. “I have the utmost confidence in their professionalism, integrity, and thoroughness. Impugning the quality of their investigations is destructive, and detrimental in our efforts to seek and obtain justice.”

In the video — which was first reported on by Minnesota Public Radio— Freeman notes that Noor has refused an interview.

“But he won’t answer my questions, and he doesn’t have to, OK? We all have Fifth Amendment rights, and I respect that,” he said. “So, I can’t talk to her because she’s gone, and the other cop just gave us s—. OK? So, guess what, I’ve got to figure out angles of the shot, gun residues, reckless use of force experts.”

The conversation becomes garbled as Freeman and the activists talk over each other, but the county attorney later adds: “If you look at this, here’s a nice lady who hears something bad outside. She calls the cops, they don’t come, she calls again. They drive by in her alley. They don’t stop to talk with her, and she comes out in her jammies and she’s killed by a cop.

“It sounds easy, doesn’t it? But it’s not just can I prove that the cop shot her. I could’ve done that the first day.”

Freeman later emphasizes again that he still needs more evidence to bring charges. He had previously said he planned to make a decision on charging Noor by the end of the year.

At the time of her death, Damond was engaged to Don Damond and was already using his name. The two planned to marry in August.

Friends and neighbors of Damond are planning a rally at 50th & Washburn when Freeman makes his decision. The rally would take place either at 6:30 p.m. on the day of Freeman’s announcement or 6:30 p.m. the following day, if the announcement comes later than 4 p.m. Details will be posted at Justice For JustineMPLS.