The family of a woman shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer a year ago plans to file a lawsuit Monday that Twin Cities attorneys predict could lead to a multimillion-dollar payout from the city.
Attorney Robert Bennett said Sunday that he will file the civil rights complaint in federal court on behalf of Justine Ruszczyk Damond’s father, John Ruszczyk.
Bennett would not talk about the details on Sunday, saying he would hold a news conference Monday afternoon.
Officer Mohamed Noor was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the July 15, 2017, death of Damond, 40, who was shot in the alley behind her home after calling 911 to report a possible sexual assault.
Noor’s attorneys say he will plead not guilty at his criminal trial and will argue that he used “reasonable force” that night. He was terminated after charges were filed.
Lawsuits alleging police misconduct sometimes go to trial, but Minneapolis has settled some of its most expensive cases, concerned that a jury could hand it greater punitive damages plus even higher legal fees. The city is self-insured, so the payout would come from city coffers.
Joseph Daly, emeritus professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, said the main question in the lawsuit will be whether Noor used reasonable force.
Daly said the suit Bennett plans to file is based on a federal statute commonly used in cases in which a police officer is accused of violating a person’s constitutional rights.
Whenever a state agent denies someone his or her constitutional rights of life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness without due process of law, Congress has authorized the person to sue that agent — in this case, Noor, he said.
“In this case, they deprived her of life,” Daly said.
Twin Cities lawyers have long expected that a suit would be filed and that the payout would be large, even in the $10 million range.
Bennett, a partner at Minneapolis law firm Gaskins Bennett & Birrell, has won millions in police misconduct settlements.
“If [Bennett] didn’t think he could meet these constitutional standards, he wouldn’t bring [the lawsuit],” attorney Randy Hopper said Sunday.
Hopper said that in these cases, “There’s no limit on the amount of money you can get the government to pay.”
The city of Minneapolis withheld comment: “Any matter involving a death is tragic. I cannot comment on the complaint in this case until I have received a copy of it,” city attorney Susan Segal said in an e-mailed statement Sunday night.
Even if Noor wins his criminal case, Damond’s family could still receive a settlement. In the case of Philando Castile, Bennett won nearly $3 million from the city of St. Anthony, even though officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted in Castile’s shooting death during a traffic stop.
Attorney Paul Applebaum cautioned that the civil case could be tougher to prove than some people think, because no one knows Noor’s version of events.
Even so, he doesn’t think the civil case will go to trial. “I don’t think the city has an appetite to fight this,” Applebaum said.
Staff writer Randy Furst contributed to this report.