The father of Justine Ruszczyk Damond had some biting words about the “integrity” of the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the “gaps” in its investigation of his daughter’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police on July 15.
In a news conference Thursday morning in Sydney, Australia, John Ruszczyk said the family is “deeply concerned about the possibility that the initial investigation was not done properly or with the greatest sense of integrity or completeness.”
He implored Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman “to continue to pursue a rigorous investigation and examination of evidence” and said “we expect them to fill in any gaps in the BCA’s work honestly and fairly but completely.”
Ruszczyk’s comments came a week after Freeman told activists at a union event that BCA investigators “haven’t done their job” and he does not yet have enough evidence to file criminal charges against officer Mohamed Noor, who shot Damond.
Noor and his partner, Matthew Harrity, responded to a 911 call from Damond about 11:30 p.m. She reported that she had heard a woman screaming in the alley and went out in her pajamas when a squad arrived. Noor, in the passenger seat, fired across the officer who was driving, fatally striking Damond in the abdomen.
John Ruszczyk said the family had declined to comment “until more details of her tragedy were known.” But Freeman’s comments “now compel us to make a public statement.”
In past months, Freeman repeatedly has said he would make a charging decision before year’s end. His comments about BCA investigators were recorded by union members who are also members of Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar. The activists confronted Freeman about why a decision had not yet been made.
On Friday, Gov. Mark Dayton defended the BCA’s work on the investigation, saying criticism is “destructive.” Freeman apologized Monday, as well, saying he was wrong to discuss the BCA’s work in a public setting.
A spokesman said Freeman had no comment Wednesday.
Ruszczyk acknowledged Freeman’s words but said, “He does not say that his comments about the BCA, the investigation itself, were unfounded, inaccurate or any way untrue.”
Ruszczyk recounted a meeting the family had after the shooting with BCA investigators. Don Damond, Justine’s fiancé, and a family lawyer were there, too, he said.
“These officers spoke of their sympathy for our loss,” Ruszczyk said during the five-minute news conference. “They also promised a complete and rigorous investigation of Justine’s shooting. They looked me in the eye and said they were committed to getting to the truth of the event.
“Now I hear that the Hennepin County attorney, to whom the BCA handed its investigative results, says that the investigation has not been done to the prosecutor’s satisfaction or even to the expected levels of accuracy and thoroughness.
“What are we to think?” Ruszczyk asked. “We are apprehensive that perhaps the BCA has not fulfilled its promise.”
The BCA said in a statement Wednesday that it is “committed to conducting a fair, impartial and thorough investigation as we gather the facts and evidence in this case.”
The agency said it presented the case to the Hennepin County attorney’s office on Sept. 12.
“We have consulted with that office from the very beginning of this investigation and will continue to work with them as needed to provide any additional information that they deem appropriate as they review the case,” the statement said. “This ongoing collaboration between prosecutors and investigators is a typical part of the review process.”
Ruszczyk also said he acknowledges the concerns of his daughter’s friends and neighbors. But, he said, “While I understand that many different groups with different agendas and views speak out often on this using Justine’s name, I want to say that only her family here in Australia and Don Damond in Minneapolis speak for Justine and her family.”