The top lawman in Minneapolis charged the police officer who mistakenly shot and killed an Australian woman last July with third-degree murder Tuesday and blamed “uncooperative” cops with slowing down the investigation.
Officer Mohamed Noor was also charged with second-degree manslaughter in connection with the death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, according to records from the Hennepin County Jail. He was booked at 11:16 a.m. and bail was set at $500,000.
Justine Damond Stephen Govel Photography
“This would have been done a good deal quicker if we had gotten cooperation,” County Attorney Mike Freeman said.
Noor could go before a judge as early as Wednesday, Freeman said, adding that a half-million dollars bail is a “standard amount” for anybody charged with third-degree murder.
So far Noor has not spoken with investigators, Freeman added.
Asked why it took eight months to bring charges, Freeman blamed the blue wall of silence.
“Many officers refused to answer questions, ” he said. “We therefore had to subpoena them to testify before a grand jury.”
In their statement, the Minneapolis Police union did not address Freeman’s assertion that certain police officers did not cooperate with investigators.
“The Federation isn’t privy to the details of the criminal case and cannot comment on specifics of the case,” their statement said. “We respect the criminal justice process and wait for the case to proceed before making further comment.”
The Ruszczyk family in Australia and the victim’s fiance Don Damond said they “applaud” the move.
Attorney details moments that lead to officer fatally shooting Justine Damond
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“While we waited over eight months to come to this point, we are pleased with the way a grand jury and County Attorney Mike Freeman appear to have been diligent and thorough in investigating and ultimately determining that these charges are justified,” they said in a statement.
Damond’s maiden name was Ruszczyk but she had already started using her fiancé Don Damond’s last name. The death of the 40-year-old expat made international news and resulted in the ouster of former police chief Janeé Harteau.
But shortly after the shooting, it was far from clear that anybody would be charged with killing Damond, whose fate was sealed when she called 911 on July 15 to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home. No evidence of any such assault was ever found.
“I have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the moment he shot the gun he feared for his life, and he used force because he thought he was going to be killed,” Freeman told activists in a videotaped exchange. “But he won’t answer my questions, because he doesn’t have to, OK? We all have Fifth Amendment rights, and I respect that.”
“And let me just say, it’s not my fault,” Freeman said in the video. “If it isn’t my fault, who didn’t do their jobs? … Investigators — and they don’t work for me. And they haven’t done their job.”
The county attorney’s office said in a statement to NBC News at the time: “We are working diligently on the case to complete the investigation as soon as possible. Beyond that, we cannot comment at this time.”
But on Dec. 18, Freeman apologized for his comments, calling them “ill-advised” and said he was not aware he was being recorded.
Image: Police officer Mohamed Noor fatally shot Justine Damond. City of Minneapolis
Noor has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting. Initially, his fate was supposed to be left to prosecutors rather than to a grand jury after the process was criticized as unfair because it rarely results in police officers being charged with crimes.
Freeman said he was forced to change course after officers he wanted to question about the tragic fatal shooting balked at talking with investigators.
A life coach and motivational speaker who hailed from Sydney, Damond’s deadly encounter with Noor happened when she approached the SUV that Noor and his partner, Officer Matthew Harrity, were driving in.
Harrity, who was at the wheel, said that he was startled by a loud noise just before Damond approached the open driver’s side window and that Noor fired from the passenger seat, striking the woman.
Both officers were wearing body cameras, but they were turned off, as were the headlights of their vehicle.
In the aftermath, Freeman said the shooting of Damond “didn’t have to happen, it shouldn’t have happened,” The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.
Don Damond said he hoped Freeman would “act swiftly to review the findings and determine the charges.”
Don Damond hugs a neighbor. Adam Bettcher / Reuters
Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann, a former Republican congresswoman who represented the Minneapolis exurbs, called Noor — one of the first Somali-American police officers on the force — an “affirmative action hire by the hijab-wearing mayor of Minneapolis.”
Bachmann’s remark was criticized as racist by local Somali community leaders and Minneapolis city leaders.
Also, Minneapolis police officers removed a memorial created by a white nationalist group for Damond that was placed outside the police headquarters.