Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said Thursday that the fatal police shooting of Justine Damond should not have happened — and that the lack of body camera footage from the incident is unacceptable.
“Given the facts that we know that the investigators have given us, those body cameras should have been on,” Hodges said in an interview Thursday. “Why weren’t they?”
In a public call for changes in police policy in the wake of the shooting Saturday, which is under investigation by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), Hodges said in a blog post Thursday that she expects police to activate their body cameras as soon as they begin responding to a call. She also echoed a previous call from Council Member Linea Palmisano, who represents the ward where Damond lived, for an independent audit of the body camera policy.
In her blog post, Hodges said she expects the police department “to make any and all changes needed to our policy so that we can be sure we will have body cam footage when we need it,” and to take the events surrounding Saturday’s shooting into consideration when making those changes.
Damond, 40, called 911 Saturday night after hearing what sounded like an assault in the alley behind her house in Minneapolis’ Fulton neighborhood. According to the BCA, Damond approached the driver’s side of the responding police vehicle, and police officer Mohamed Noor, who was sitting in the passenger seat, shot her through the squad’s open window. Officer Matthew Harrity, who was in the driver’s seat, told investigators “a loud sound” startled him moments before Damond was shot.
Neither Noor nor Harrity had their body cameras on at the time of the shooting. The squad car dash camera was also not turned on.
Whether the shooting will lead to additional changes at the police department, such as in how officers are trained, remains to be seen.
“We don’t have all of the information about what happened and don’t want to presume that all the investigative data is in front of us, because it’s not,” Hodges said. “That will be a question for weeks to come — what do we need to learn from this?”
In the days since the shooting, Hodges has emphasized what she learned from the 2015 fatal police shooting of Jamar Clark, an unarmed black man, and the resulting protests at north Minneapolis’ Fourth Precinct. The more visible response from City Hall and the police department in this case has raised questions about race, and whether Damond’s shooting is being perceived differently because she was white.
Hodges has said the only difference is she took the criticisms that emerged after Clark’s shooting — in meetings with community members, in a report the U.S. Department of Justice released in March — to heart.
“I can say my level of communication is different because I learned that lesson,” she said. “People reflected to me, we need to hear you, we need to see you, we need more information. And my response is, I learned that lesson and I’m doing what I learned.”
Hodges’ public communication over the past several days has come on social media, in interviews and at press conferences held alongside Assistant Police Chief Medaria Arradondo. Police Chief Janeé Harteau was away until Thursday on what was described as a “personal, pre-scheduled” trip.
Hodges said she’s tried to find a balance between being visible and not overstepping. She decided, for example, not to attend a vigil for Damond on Sunday evening because she didn’t want to be the focus of attention, she said.
The chief’s absence has drawn widespread criticism, including calls for her firing. Hodges said Thursday that Harteau was in constant communication with her and with Arradondo, and that under Arradondo’s leadership, “the city’s been in good hands.”
Mayoral candidates respond
The four candidates challenging Hodges for the mayor’s seat in November had a harsher response to Harteau’s absence.
Nekima Levy-Pounds, a civil rights attorney and community activist, called for Harteau’s firing before the chief’s return Thursday. She said the shooting has become “an international embarrassment.”
“This case illustrates the problems that activists and community members have been highlighting over the last several years about the need for urgent police reform in the city of Minneapolis,” she said.
Council Member Jacob Frey echoed the call for new leadership in the police department — and in the mayor’s office.
“There’s a crisis of confidence in the mayor, with police shootings and increasing violent crime,” he said. “Right now, we need a new mayor and a new chief.”
Candidates Tom Hoch and Ray Dehn, a state representative, both questioned why Hodges hasn’t been spending more time in the community since the shooting. Hoch pointed out that she didn’t attend the vigil — something he and other candidates did.
“We forget that our mayor is a member of our community,” Dehn said. “And I think that that’s important — that sometimes, the mayor needs to be a member of the community, and sometimes the mayor needs to be a mayor, and sometimes you can be both of those at the same time.”