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19 Jul, 2017 04:06

‘Loud sound’ startled Minneapolis police officer before fatal shooting of Australian woman

‘Loud sound’ startled Minneapolis police officer before fatal shooting of Australian woman

Investigators have confirmed the identity of the two Minneapolis police officers involved in the fatal shooting of a 40-year-old Australian woman that has grabbed global headlines. City officials described the information provided to them as “underwhelming.”

On Tuesday, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) named the two Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officers involved in the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk, 40, also known as Justine Damond.

The BCA, which began conducting the investigation at the request of the MPD, confirmed that Mohamed Noor and Matthew Harrity were the two officers involved in the fatal incident.

While the BCA interviewed Harrity on Tuesday, Noor declined to be interviewed. His attorney did not say when the interview would be conducted, if at all.

According to the BCA’s investigation, officers Harrity and Noor responded to a 911 call made by Ruszczyk Saturday night. Harrity was driving while Noor was in the passenger seat.

As they reached the address the call originated from, Harrity was “startled” by a “loud sound.” Immediately after, Ruszczyk approached the driver’s side of the car. Harrity told investigators that Noor fired his gun, striking Ruszczyk through the driver’s side window.

The two officers then exited the squad car and provided aid until medical personnel arrived. Ruszczyk was pronounced dead at the scene.

The BCA also said that the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed Ruszczyk’s identity and said that she died of a single gunshot wound to the abdomen. 

At a news conference Tuesday, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges called Ruszczyk’s death “needless.”

She said that the BCA is conducting an independent investigation and that it is Minneapolis policy that the MPD not investigate itself in critical incident cases involving MPD officers.

“We need to make sure that we maintain that independence and the integrity of that process, the integrity of the investigation,” Hodges said. “We’ve been pressing for as much information as quickly as possible and we appreciate that the BCA has released the information that they have given tonight.”

Since it is an independent investigation, 13th Ward city council member Linea Palmisano said the information the city can share at this point is “underwhelming.”

“Due to the investigation by the BA there are only limited documents that the city has ownership of and can release. But I promise you that we will release everything in our ability,” Palmisano said.

Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal said that BCA informed that the “they do not view the 911 call as criminal investigative data,” meaning that a transcript of the call will be made available to the public after it has been released to the family.

Hodges then addressed the fact that Noor, the precinct’s first Somali-American officer, has refused to make a statement, saying it is his constitutional right.

“People have constitutional rights, we can not compel him to make a statement,” Hodges said. “I wish that he would. I wish that he would because he has a story to tell that no one else can tell. But I share the frustration of the community.”

The BCA said that the officers did not have their body cameras nor their squad camera turned on during the incident, and that they do not have any footage from the incident.

“I share the frustration and dismay that we don’t have body camera footage here. I will say that body cameras are a very powerful tool, not an infallible tool, but a powerful one that have proven valuable already in our investigations,” Hodges said.

MPD Assistant Chief Medaria Arradondo said that the “use of body worn cameras is a part of this review,” but added that he could not say anything more while the BCA continues their investigation.

The MPD is currently eight months away from a department wide roll-out of body cameras.

Arradondo added that MPD Chief Janee Harteau recently created the position of a quality assurance commander who will be completing a full review of the MPD body cam program, which will be focused on how often officers activate their body cams.

He also said that mandated supervisor training will be completed for the entire department by the end of August. The front line supervisors will ensure officers increase the activation time of their body cameras.

However, he said that their policies were “subject to change.”

The BCA said that there was an 18-to-25-year-old male that stopped at the scene and watched as the officers provided medical assistance to Ruszczyk. At the news conference, Hodges urged the man to come forward and provided a number for him to call.

“Even if you think what you have to say isn’t important, trust me the BCA is interested in talking to you about anything that you saw that night," Hodges said.

Arradondo said other officers canvassed the area in relation to the original call to the MPD, but did not find any crimes related to the original 911 call.