MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minneapolis police officer was charged Tuesday with murder and manslaughter in the fatal shooting of an unarmed Australian woman in July minutes after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault behind her home.
Officer Mohamed Noor turned himself in after a warrant was issued for his arrest. He shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a 40-year-old life coach, on July 15. Damond's death drew international attention, cost the police chief her job and forced major revisions to the department's policy on body cameras.
Neighbors, others hold vigil for woman killed by officer
About 50 people gathered Tuesday evening for a vigil to remember Justine Ruszczyk Damond. The 40-year-old life coach from Australia was killed by Officer Mohamed Noor last July after she called police to report a possible sexual assault behind her home. Noor is charged with murder and manslaughter.
Todd Schuman, a member of the group Justice for Justine, says police need to be held accountable for their actions that hurt individuals and damage their communities. Minnesota Public Radio reports Minneapolis City Council member Linea Palmisano attended the vigil. She says she has seen some improvements in the city's police department prompted by Ruszczyk's death, including a new chief and new body camera rules.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said the law makes it difficult to charge police officers unless they are "unacceptably reckless." He said, "I agree with that."
But he added: "Clearly Officer Noor violated the rules and deserves to be charged."
Noor is charged with third-degree murder "for perpetrating an eminently dangerous act" and with second-degree manslaughter for "culpable negligence creating unreasonable risk." The murder charge is for a death caused without intent.
Conviction on the first charge carries a presumptive sentence of 12½ years; the second, four years. Bail was set at $500,000.
Noor has not spoken publicly about the case and declined to answer questions from investigators. His attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said Noor shouldn't have been charged.
"The facts will show that Officer Noor acted as he has been trained and consistent with established departmental policy. Officer Noor should not have been charged with any crime," he said in a statement.
Noor, who had been on paid leave since the shooting, was fired from the police force Tuesday.
Damond's father, John Ruszcyzk, and her fiance, Don Damond, issued a joint statement saying the decision to charge Noor was "one step toward justice for this iniquitous act."
"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," the statement said.
Noor's partner the night of the shooting, Matthew Harrity, told investigators that he was startled by a thump on the back of the squad car, heard a voice and glimpsed a person's head and shoulders outside his window. He said he drew his gun and held it by his ribcage pointing downward.
The complaint said Harrity then heard a sound like a light bulb breaking, saw a flash and looked to his right to see Noor with his arm extended. He then looked out his window and saw Damond with a gunshot wound in her abdomen. Damond put her hands on the wound and said "I'm dying" or "I'm dead."
"We both got spooked," Harrity told his sergeant later, according to the complaint.
"There is no evidence that, in that short timeframe, Officer Noor encountered, appreciated, investigated, or confirmed a threat that justified the decision to use deadly force," the criminal complaint said. "Instead, Officer Noor recklessly and intentionally fired his handgun from the passenger seat, a location at which he would have been less able than Officer Harrity to see and hear events on the other side of the squad car."
The officers did not turn on their body cameras until after the shooting, and there was no squad camera video of the incident.
The shooting also prompted questions about the training of Noor, a two-year veteran and Somali-American whose arrival on the force had been celebrated by city leaders and Minnesota's large Somali community. Noor, 32, had trained in business and economics and worked in property management before becoming an officer.
Then-Chief Janee Harteau defended Noor's training and said he was suited to be on the street. But Harteau was forced out soon after by Mayor Betsy Hodges.
Chief Medaria Arradondo, Harteau's replacement, quickly announced a policy change requiring officers to turn on their body cameras in responding to any call or traffic stop. Recent reports show the department is not yet in full compliance.
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he supports the charges against Noor, but hopes they are based on the "heinousness of the crime" and not on Noor's ethnicity.
Police union president Bob Kroll said the union couldn't comment on specifics of the case but would review Noor's firing.
Freeman had originally pledged to make a charging decision by the end of last year, but was captured on video at a holiday reception in December, complaining that investigators hadn't brought him enough evidence to charge Noor.
Freeman apologized a few days later, saying he shouldn't have discussed the case in detail in public. He soon convened a grand jury to help him investigate the case because, he said, several officers weren't cooperating.
Freeman maintained Tuesday that the decision to charge Noor was his.
Associated Press writers Doug Glass, Jeff Baenen and Steve Karnowski contributed to this report from Minneapolis.