Justine Damond spent her last moments trying to help a stranger.
At 11:27 p.m. Saturday, Ms. Damond called police to report a possible sexual assault, according to a 911 transcript obtained by the Star Tribune Wednesday, later published by the city of Minneapolis.
“I’m not sure if she’s having sex or being raped,” Damond told the operator. After giving her address in the quiet Fulton neighborhood, Damond continued: “I think she just yelled out ‘help,’ but it’s difficult the sound has been going on for a while, but I think, I don’t think she’s enjoying it.”
“OK,” said the operator, “I’ve already got an officer on the way.”
Soon afterward, one of those officers, Mohamed Noor, fired his gun from inside a patrol vehicle and killed Damond.
The death of Ms Damond, 40, sparked international controversy, including in her native Australia, where the prime minister called it a “shocking” and “inexplicable” killing and demanded answers. As the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) investigates, details have been scarce, and the 911 call further explains why the officers were there in the first place. The city also released police and incident reports Wednesday, though they offer limited public details while the shooting is still being investigated.
“I think the BCA is also stymied by a lack of information,” said Gov. Mark Dayton Wednesday in his first public remarks on the case. “I think everybody wants answers.”
The 911 transcript shows that about eight minutes after making her first call, Damond called police again to make sure they took down her address correctly. She repeated the report of hearing a woman screaming, and the operator assured her the officers were en route.
“Thank you,” said Damond.
Officer Matthew Harrity, who was driving, and Noor, in the front passenger seat, arrived at the scene. They drove south through the alley between Washburn and Xerxes avenues S., toward W. 51st Street, with the squad (car) lights turned off. As they reached the street, “Harrity indicated that he was startled by a loud sound near the squad (car),” according to the preliminary BCA investigation.
911 call transcript
Damond approached the driver’s side window of the squad car “immediately afterward,” according to the statement. Noor shot from the passenger seat, across his partner and through the window, striking Damond in the abdomen. She died at the scene 20 minutes later.
Officers canvassed the area that night, but did not locate any evidence of a sexual assault, said Minneapolis Police Assistant Chief Medaria Arradondo, who has served as the face of the department since the shooting. Chief Janeé Harteau remains out of public view on what a spokesperson called a “personal, pre-scheduled” trip out of state, saying she was expected to return Wednesday. A message left asking if she was back in Minneapolis was not returned.
A State Police spokesman would not clarify what the noise Harrity heard may have been, but Harrity’s attorney hinted that the officers may have believed they were driving into an “ambush.” The attorney, Fred Bruno, declined to discuss the investigation, but said, “it’s certainly reasonable to assume that any police officer would be concerned about a possible ambush under these circumstances,” referencing the case of New York City Police officer Miosotis Familia, 48, who was killed July 5 when she was shot in the head while sitting in her mobile command vehicle in the Bronx.
Noor has refused to be interviewed by BCA agents, so his side of the story is still unknown. Noor’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, did not respond to a request for comment.
After Noor shot Damond, the officers exited the car and started performing CPR until medical responders arrived. Damond was pronounced dead at the scene.
The officers were wearing body cameras, but they did not turn them on until after the shooting, according to the BCA. Investigators say they are not aware of any video or audio of the shooting.
Bruno would not specify what Harrity told BCA investigators beyond what was made public.
Dayton reserving judgement
Governor Dayton called the death a “horrible” tragedy, but said he had no additional information to draw conclusions about what happened.
He said he left a message expressing condolences to Damond’s fiancé, Don Damond, and another message with the Australian consulate in Chicago offering any aid he could. Justine Damond, a spiritual healer from Sydney, was scheduled to marry Don Damond in August.
Dayton said he would not comment on Noor refusing to be interviewed by police because Noor has a constitutional right to remain silent.
“There’s a paucity of information,” he said. “To the best of my knowledge, there are only two living eyewitnesses. One, who spoke yesterday to BCA officials for about four hours, and the other, who has declined to be interviewed, and he’s obviously the key person in this investigation.”
Dayton said the Legislature should “definitely review” the policies on body cameras, echoing remarks from Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman earlier this week that the officers “didn’t have to turn them on, but [they] should have turned them on.”
Freeman’s office has been briefed on the case, but a spokesman declined to comment Wednesday about what was revealed. Freeman said he will decide whether to charge Noor with the shooting, rather than convene a grand jury.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said any type of violent incident between police and citizens is “incredibly unfortunate,” but said he’d also reserve judgement until more information is released.
Daudt said he expects the Legislature to take up discussions around police body cameras in the future. But he said earlier talks have turned controversial, as lawmakers seek to balance public safety needs with the privacy rights of people who are filmed.
The speaker voiced his support for law enforcement officers across the state, and urged Minnesotans to do the same. “This isn’t easy when it happens for folks in uniform,” he said. “I encourage people to show support.”
Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune – Staff writers Brandon Stahl and Hannah Covington.
Editorial and Opinion
- This shooting of a white 40 year old Australian national, in a safe neighbourhood in Minneapolis by a black Muslim officer has a distinct stink about it! Mayor Betsy states that people cannot compound that tragedy by turning to “racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia.” It is unfortunate but all these factors exist until proven otherwise.
- The Minneapolis police chief Janeé Harteau remains out of public view on what a police spokesperson called a “personal, pre-scheduled” trip out of state. With an incident as big as this which has the potential to blow her department apart, and become a major international incident, she should have returned immediately to provide executive oversight – but no!
- What has Officer Noor got to hide. He refuses to be interviewed by BCA officers. Yes, it is his right to remain silent, but as a serving police officer involved in a “gun on none” shooting, he has an absolute obligation to tell his side of the story. Matthew Harrity has given his statement of events BCA officers, but Noor refuses to do so.
- Reports state that Officer Noor had already drawn his weapon and had it on his lap, and when Ms Damond approached the driver’s side window in her pyjamas, Officer Noor raised and discharged his weapon across the front and in the face of Officer Harrity, through a closed window striking and killing Ms Damond. Why was this weapon drawn already? Deadly force is used when an officer is in grave and imminent danger! Noor was ready to shoot irrespective of the situation found!
- What did Noor think he was shooting at? How had he appropriately assessed the scene, and any possible threat to his and his partner’s safety?
- Why were the officers body cameras turned off? County Attorney Mike Freeman stated that officers “didn’t have to turn them on.” If that is the case, then why are they issued? The officers’ failure to turn on their cameras violates Minneapolis police policy, which has been in place for body cameras since at least 2016. In particular, policy 4-223 says that officers should manually activate their cameras “prior to any use of force. If a [body-worn camera] is not activated prior to a use of force, it shall be activated as soon as it is safe to do so.” It also says that officers should turn on their cameras during “any contact involving criminal activity,” “any contact that is, or becomes adversarial,” and “any citizen contact.” All of these rules indicate that the cameras should have been rolling before police shot Damond. However, it’s one thing to have these rules and another to get officers to actually follow them.
- Why was the squad cars dash camera turned of? Why are they fixed to the squad cars if they are not used.
- Why do American police have this shoot first, ask questions later mentality? US police kill more in days than other countries police do in years.” Between 1992 and 2011, Australian police shot and killed 94 people. In 2015, US police shot and killed 97 people in March alone!
- Constitutionally, US police officers are allowed to shoot under two circumstances. The first circumstance is “to protect their life or the life of another innocent party” — what departments call the “defence-of-life” standard. The second circumstance is to prevent a suspect from escaping, but only if the officer has probable cause to think the suspect poses a dangerous threat to others. Of course, this leads to the unarmed and possibly innocent suspect running away from the vicinity of a possible crime scene, being shot dead with officers using lethal force on limited and/or erroneous information!
- The suggestion by officers that they feared they were being ambushed is ludicrous! This dis-information is being spread in attempt to muddy the investigation and to taint the judgement by police and public alike. Where did this information come from? A cynic may suggest from the Minneapolis PD union itself, in attempt to create doubt in favour of it’s members?
- Will Noor face prosecution for his actions? Probably not! Even though the victim was white, female, unarmed and the 911 informant, who was shot by a black officer with a limited and erroneous scope of the scene. On the surface of this incident, this seems to be an unlawful shooting, Noor is unlikely to face court. Police are very rarely prosecuted for shootings — because the law allows them wide latitude to use force on the job. It’s because the investigation of the incident often falls onto the same police department the officer is from, which creates major conflicts of interest, and breeds corrupt investigative practices. These police are not motivated to prosecute their own, a position which appears to be supported by the city officials and the judiciary of that location. At other times the only available evidence comes from eyewitnesses, who are not seen to be as trustworthy in the public eye as a police officer.
- The vulnerable will continue to suffer and the guilty will walk away.