An attorney for the family of Justine Ruszczyk Damond is requesting a hearing on the issue of whether the city of Minneapolis intends to pick up the legal bills of former police officer Mohamed Noor, who fatally shot the Australian woman two summers ago.
In a letter to U.S. Magistrate Judge Tony Leung, attorney Bob Bennett asked for a status conference to decide the issue of indemnification, arguing that he was being kept in the dark by lawyers for the city and Noor as to whether they would cover the cost of potential damages against him.
A city spokeswoman said Monday afternoon that no final decision had been made on whether to indemnify Noor.
Bennett is representing John Ruszczyk, Damond’s father, who is suing Noor, his former partner and the city for allegedly conspiring to turn off their body cameras in an effort to conceal crucial evidence about the shooting and later hiding behind a “blue wall of silence.” The $50 million suit also faults the department and its leaders for failing to properly train the two officers.
Noor is also facing murder charges for shooting the 40-year-old Damond, whose legal last name was Ruszczyk but who went by Justine Damond professionally, after responding to her 911 call about a possible rape in the alley behind her south Minneapolis home in July 2017.
His criminal case is set to go to trial on April 1, with a final pretrial hearing scheduled for next month.
Bennett’s letter, dated Jan. 31, said that Arthur Boylan, a retired judge, told him in a Jan. 24 phone conversation that the city had had decided against indemnification. Boylan, according to Bennett, also shared with him that the city intended to apologize to Damond’s family at Noor’s criminal trial. City attorneys wouldn’t confirm the judge’s claims, Bennett said.
“Defendants appear to be using the mere existence of the stay as a shield from providing any information bearing on the continued propriety of that stay,” read the letter, referring to Leung’s decision last fall to delay the civil case until after Noor’s criminal proceedings are finished. Otherwise the fired officer would be forced to choose between defending himself in the criminal case or the lawsuit, Leung concluded.
A follow-up letter by attorneys for the city doesn’t comment on the matter.
Bennett has long argued against postponing the case, previously saying that it would only delay the timeline by which Hennepin County prosecutors must turn over discovery evidence against Noor.
When reached on Monday, Bennett said he was confident that the city would ultimately agree to indemnify Noor, as it has done for other officers accused of misconduct while on the job.
“They’re the ones who gave him a gun and a license to be a peace officer, and they hired him and they trained him,” said Bennett, citing a state statute that cities must indemnify their officers in all but a few circumstances. “Why should they be able to duck out of their responsibility — plus they have their own liability.”
Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal on Monday declined to comment through a spokesperson.