MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor was charged Tuesday in the July 15 shooting death of Justine Damond.
Noor's attorney, Thomas Plunkett, says Noor turned himself in within an hour of being notified of his arrest warrant. He has been charged with third degree murder and second degree manslaughter.
On July 15, Damond, a 40-year-old Australian native who was engaged to be married, was shot and killed by Noor in the alley of her south Minneapolis home after she called 911 to report a possible assault. The officer who was with Noor at the time, Matthew Harrity, told investigators he was startled by a loud noise - believed to be Damond slapping the back of their squad car--when Noor fired his gun across his partner through the open window.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced the charges at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
Freeman said there is no evidence that Noor confirmed, investigating or appreciated a threat that justified his decision to use deadly force.
In a statement, Noor's attorney said his client should not have been charged with any crime.
"The facts will show that Office Noor acted as he has trained and consistent with established department policy," Plunkett said.
Chief Medaria Arrandondo said Tuesday Noor is no longer employed with the Minneapolis Police Department.
According to the criminal complaint, 13 minutes passed from the moment Damond called 911 to when Officer Noor fired the fatal shot.
At 11:27 p.m., Damond called 911 to report what she thought was a sexual assault in the alley behind her house on the 5000 block of Washburn Avenue. Noor and his partner, Officer Matthew Harrity were dispatched to the suspected assault.
At 11:35 p.m., Damond called 911 again and said no one had arrived and she was concerned they got the address wrong.
Noor and Harrity's squad car entered the alley on 50th Street at 11:37 p.m. When the officers neared the other end of the alley at 11:39 p.m., Noor entered "Code 4" into the squad computer, which meant the officers were safe and needed no assistance.
Harrity was driving the squad car that night. He told investigators that about five to 10 seconds after Noor entered Code 4, he heard a voice, a thump somewhere behind him on the squad car and caught a glimpse of a person's head and shoulders. Harrity said he was startled and took his gun outside its holster. Noor then reached across him and fired a shot through his open window. The shooting took place at 11:40 p.m.--13 minutes after the first 911 call.
Harrity said he looked out the window and saw Damond on the ground. She put her hands on the gunshot wound and said "I'm dead" and "I'm dying."
The officers turned on their body-worn cameras after getting out of the car. Both officers attempted to provide aid to Damond, but she was pronounced dead at the scene.
In his first conversation moments after the shooting, captured in the bodycam footage, Harrity told his supervising sergeant that he and Noor were getting ready to clear to another call when Damond "came up on the side out of nowhere." He said "we both got spooked" and that he had his gun out. He said Noor "pulled out and fired."
Freeman said both officers were trained to identify a target and its threat, if any, before shooting at it.
"In the short time between when Ms. Damond Ruszczyk 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," Freeman said at the press conference. "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."
AFTERMATH OF THE SHOOTING
Damond, also known as Justine Ruszczyk, was a meditation teacher from Australia, who lived in the Fulton neighborhood with her fiance Don Damon and her future stepson, Zach. Her death in July became both national and international news.
The lack of bodycam and squad car video was a source of frustration and confusion for many in the aftermath of the shooting. Neither Noor nor Harrity had their body-worn cameras turned on at the time of the shooting and squad camera did not capture the incident either.
The Minneapolis Police Department fully implemented their body camera program in early 2017, which indicated the devices should be turned on prior to any use of force, or at least in the immediate aftermath. In the wake of Damond's death, then-MPD Chief Janee Harteau said officers still needed to make turning on the cameras second nature, but admitted the devices should have been activated for the shooting.
Harteau was out of town when the shooting occurred, not returning from a backpacking trip in the mountains for four days. She resigned from her position less than a week after the shooting at the request of then-mayor Betsy Hodges.
Current MPD Chief Medaria Arradondo has since made changes to the body camera policy, now requiring body cameras to be on whenever officers are dispatched to any call or self-initiated activity.
Statements from Chief Arradondo and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey can be found here.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension conducted the investigation into the officer-involved shooting. The case was submitted to the Hennepin County Attorney's office for review in September.
Noor refused to speak with BCA investigators, his right under the same Fifth Amendment that protects regular citizens from self-incrimination.
Earlier this year, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman convened a grand jury to pin down officer statements under oath and to run his case past the jurors before making a final charging decision.
OFFICER MOHAMED NOOR STATEMENT
Noor's attorney, Thomas Plunkett released a statement Tuesday regarding the charging decision.
The loss of Justine Ruszcyzk Damond is a tragedy and Office Noor again personally extends his continued condolences to her family for their loss.
Based on public comments Mr. Freeman made as far back as six months ago at a happy hour where he thought he was off the record, it appears he contemplated these charges long before the grand jury investigation he directed was even commenced.
The facts will show that Office Noor acted as he has trained and consistent with established department policy. Officer Noor should not have been charged with any crime.
JOINT STATEMENT FROM RUSZCZYK AND DAMOND FAMILIES
Justine's father, John Ruszczyk and the Ruszczyk family and Don Damond and the Damond family released a joint statement through their attorney on Tuesday in response to Noor's arrest.
Justine's family in Australia and the U.S. applaud today's decision to criminally charge Officer Noor with Justine's murder as one step toward justice for this iniquitous act.
While we waited over eight months to come to this point, we are pleased with the way a grand jury and County Attorney Mike Freeman appear to have been diligent and thorough in investigating and ultimately determining that these charges are justified.
We remain hopeful that a strong case will be presented by the prosecutor, backed by verified and detailed forensic evidence, and that this will lead to a conviction. No charges can bring our Justine back. However, justice demands accountability for those responsible for recklessly killing the fellow citizens they are sworn to protect, and today's actions reflect that.