A decision on whether Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor should be charged in the shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond will be made sometime in 2018, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Thursday.
Freeman reversed several previous statements he had made that he would make a charging decision on the case before the end of the year. But he said Thursday that the investigation is not done and offered no timetable for when it will be completed. He said a team in his office continues to work on the case.
“Our goal was to complete the review and make a decision on whether or not to bring charges by the end of the year,” Freeman said in a statement. “We are getting more information and evidence and additional investigation must be completed. As I have mentioned before, the investigation and review of the case will not be rushed. It is more important to get it right than to get it done quickly.”
He refused to take questions from the media.
Freeman said he spoke with Damond’s family by phone.
“He expressed the deepest sympathies from himself and the Hennepin County attorney’s office and explained why there would be no decision by Dec. 31. He also informed them that there is no timetable for when the decision will be made,” the statement said.
The Ruszczyk and Damond families support Freeman’s decision, said the attorney representing them, Bob Bennett. Bennett referenced a statement made by Damond’s father last week imploring Freeman’s office “to continue to pursue a rigorous investigation and examination of evidence.”
“This is what the family wanted,” Bennett said. “It doesn’t make any difference how long the investigation takes. It takes however long it takes to do the job right.”
In a statement, the Ruszczyk and Damond families echoed their attorney.
“We support Mr. Freeman’s decision to take additional time to ensure the investigation is rigorous and complete. We want justice and appreciate the support from all those who want the same. We ask for the public’s patience to allow the investigation to continue.”
Noor shot and killed Damond on July 15, after the Australia native called 911 twice to report a possible sexual assault outside of her south Minneapolis home. Noor and his partner, Matthew Harrity, responded to the call. Damond went to the back alley. When she approached the squad, Noor, from the passenger’s seat, shot across Harrity in the driver’s seat, striking Damond in the lower abdomen. According to a search warrant filed in July, the officers heard a slap on the car before Noor fired his gun.
Her death caused outrage around the world. It led to the firing of Minneapolis’ first female police chief, Janeé Harteau, and raised new questions about police training and the use of force.
Noor, who remains on paid administrative leave, has declined to speak with investigators.
Freeman complicated an already heavily scrutinized case when he was caught on video on Dec. 13 blasting investigators for not bringing him enough evidence to charge Noor.
“I’ve got to have the evidence, and I don’t have it yet,” Freeman said in the video. “Let me just say it’s not my fault. So if it isn’t my fault, who didn’t do their job? Investigators. They don’t work for me. They haven’t done their job.”
Noor declined to talk with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which investigated the case. Harrity did talk with investigators, but Freeman said in the video that he “just gave us [expletive].”
“So guess what, I’ve got to figure out angles of the shot, gun residues, reckless use of force experts. I mean, everybody, I agree with you,” Freeman told a group of union members.
In a statement, Noor’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, expressed concerns about Freeman handling the case in light of the video’s revelations.
“Officer Noor extends his thoughts and wishes to the Ruszczyk Damond family,” the statement said. “I am concerned by the statement’s suggestion that Mr. Freeman has taken the investigation in-house. Objectivity and integrity are the keys to ‘get it right;’ recent developments do give us pause on this point.”
The BCA handed Freeman the investigation on Sept. 12. He has had the case for 107 days, more than twice as long as it took him to announce he would not file charges against the two officers who were involved in the shooting death of Jamar Clark.
It took Ramsey County prosecutor John Choi 49 days after getting the case from the BCA to announce he was filing manslaughter charges against former St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the shooting death of Philando Castile. Yanez was later acquitted.
The week after Freeman was caught on video, he apologized to the BCA, saying he was “wrong to discuss both the agency’s work and what discussions we are having internally at the county attorney’s office.”
Minneapolis Mayor-elect Jacob Frey struck a slow but sure tone in his reaction to the expanding investigatory time line.
“Clearly, this investigation has taken a while, and I know a lot of people, including the immediate family, are struggling right now,” Frey said. “That being said, I would never want a lack of gathered evidence to result in an unnecessary lack of charge.
“So, let’s get the right evidence and arrive at the right results. … Let’s make sure the decision is fully informed with complete evidence.”
Frey is scheduled on Friday to attend one in a series of community discussions, hosted by his transition team, where discussion about police conduct is anticipated.
The group Justice for Justine has said it intends to participate in the gathering, scheduled for 8:30 to 11 a.m. at 3110 Blaisdell Av. S.
A representative of the group said members will be patient as prosecutors continue the investigation.
“We’ve always called for a thorough and complete investigation, and that’s the only way to reach justice,” said Todd Schuman, who lives near the Damond home.
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, said in a statement: “The tragic shooting death of Ms. Justine Ruszczyk Damond has impacted so many people here in Minneapolis and beyond our state. The MPD will continue to await the conclusion of this independent investigation and the Hennepin County Attorney’s charging decision.”
Staff writers Paul Walsh and Liz Sawyer contributed to this report.