Police officers Matthew Harrity and Mohamed Noor eased their patrol vehicle into the alley of the quiet south Minneapolis neighborhood late Saturday, the squad’s lights off as they responded to a report of a possible assault.
Near the end of the alley, a “loud sound” startled Harrity. A moment later, Justine Damond, the woman who had called 911, approached the driver’s side of the squad car. Suddenly a surprise burst of gunfire blasted past Harrity as Noor fired through the squad’s open window, striking Damond in the abdomen.
The two officers began lifesaving efforts, but within 20 minutes Damond was dead.
That rudimentary account of her death, released Tuesday by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, is based on an interview that Harrity, 25, a one-year veteran of the force, gave to BCA investigators about a case that has become a focus of national and international attention. Noor so far has refused to talk to investigators and there is no indication when or if he might tell his side of the story.
The fatal shooting of Damond, a 40-year-old spiritual healer from Australia who was engaged to be married, has stirred community unrest toward police and calls from family and friends for an explanation as to why Noor, 31, shot her.
The new information from the BCA does not fully answer those questions but it offers a timeline of what happened that night. The BCA said Noor’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, has not indicated whether the officer will give an interview. Plunkett did not respond to a request for comment. Harrity’s attorney, Fred Bruno, confirmed he was representing Harrity but did not comment further.
In a Tuesday evening news conference, Mayor Betsy Hodges, Assistant Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, and City Council Member Linea Palmisano addressed reporters from around the world, saying they were still limited by the ongoing investigation.
“We do have more information, though it’s frustrating to have some of the picture but not all of it,” Hodges said. “We cannot compel Officer Noor to make a statement; I wish we could,” she said, quickly clarifying: “I wish that he would make a statement.”
Neither officer’s body camera was on at the time of the shooting, nor was the squad car dash camera. Arradondo said the department has a quality assurance commander who will investigate the bodycam program.
A use-of-force investigation has also been launched, and Chief Janeé Harteau — who has been out of public view since the shooting and on what a spokesperson called a “personal, pre-scheduled” trip, is expected to return Wednesday.
As her family previously reported, the BCA said it was Damond, identified by her given name of Justine Ruszczyk, who called 911 that night. Around 11:30 p.m., she reported hearing screaming in the alley and worried there might be an assault taking place.
Arradondo said Tuesday that officers at the scene canvassed the area and did not locate any suspects.
The responding officers had not been on the force long. Harrity was hired a year ago; Noor two years ago. Asked by the media about partnering two relatively inexperienced officers, Arradondo said: “These were two fully trained police officers.”
They drove south through the alley between Washburn and Xerxes avenues S., toward 51st Street West, with the squad lights turned off. As they reached the street, “Harrity indicated that he was startled by a loud sound near the squad,” according to the preliminary BCA investigation. Damon approached the driver’s side window of the squad car “immediately afterward,” according to the statement.
After Noor shot Damond, the officers quickly exited the car and started performing CPR until medical responders arrived. Damond was pronounced dead at the scene.
The officers were wearing body cameras, but they did not turn them on until after the shooting, according to the BCA. Investigators say they are not aware of any video or audio of the shooting.
The investigation is still active, but the BCA account of events says the agency has briefed the Hennepin County attorney’s office about the preliminary findings. Once the investigation is completed, all materials will go to the county attorney to review.
Investigators have no interviews scheduled for now, though they are looking for a white male bicyclist age 18-25 they say stopped and watched officers give medical assistance, and other witnesses to the incident.
Anyone with information is urged to call the BCA at 651-793-7000. Investigators are also doing forensic testing.
On Tuesday, a Minneapolis Somali-American police officer anonymously spoke on behalf of himself and his eight Somali-American colleagues, expressing both condolences to Damond’s family, as well as fear. “We can’t imagine the pain and suffering the victim’s family is going through and our hearts go out to them,” he said, adding that some reporters have been staking out their homes and knocking on their doors.
“This is scaring our families. It’s difficult to deal with some media groups going to other Somali officers’ houses who are not involved in this shooting. It makes it hard to do this job when you’re worried about your family.”
State Rep. Ilhan Omar, the nation’s first Somali-American lawmaker, issued a statement urging the change of what she called a police culture that causes deaths like Damond’s.
“The current officer training program indoctrinates individuals of all races into a system that teaches them to act first, think later, and justify with fear,” she said.
The shooting came just weeks after the acquittal of ex-St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile, and nearly two years after Jamar Clark was shot and killed during a scuffle with two Minneapolis police officers who were not charged.
Widespread protests followed the deaths of both men, who were black. When Hodges was asked if race played a role in her demands for immediacy and transparency in the Damond investigation, Hodges said it wasn’t about her personal feelings but about the importance of communication.
“I’ve learned a lot of lessons, almost two years ago, going through the experience of Jamar Clark,” she said.
While Hodges expressed her desire that Noor would offer a statement on what happened that night, Arradondo said he would not cast judgment.
“It is his right,” Arradondo said. “He has legal representation and I want to respect his right for that.”
Staff writers Pat Pheifer, James Eli Shiffer, Paul Walsh, Faiza Mahamud and Libor Jany contributed to this report.