Justine Damond spent her last moments trying to help a stranger.
At 11:27 p.m. Saturday, Damond called police to report a possible sexual assault, according to a 911 transcript obtained by the Star Tribune on 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 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 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 lights turned off. As they reached the street, “Harrity indicated that he was startled by a loud sound near the squad,” according to the preliminary BCA investigation.
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.
On her Facebook page, Mayor Betsy Hodges addressed the city’s Somali community, writing in part: “I want to be very clear that Officer Noor, a fully trained officer in the Minneapolis Police Department, won’t be treated differently than any other officer. ... We cannot compound that tragedy by turning to racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia.”
Dayton reserving judgment
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 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 judgment 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.”
Staff writers Brandon Stahl and Hannah Covington contributed to this report.