National News

New details emerge in officer-involved shooting in Minnesota

Posted July 18
Updated July 19

The mayor of Minneapolis said she wants to hear from the officer who fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk.

But so far, officer Mohamed Noor has exercised his constitutional right to not speak to state investigators, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said Tuesday.

And, it's not clear if or when he will.

"He has a story to tell that no one else can tell," Mayor Betsy Hodges said in a news conference Tuesday. "We can't compel him by law, but I wish that he would make that statement."

The news conference capped a day of developments in a case that's raising questions about police training, use of force and body camera policies. The shooting has led newscasts in Australia, where Ruszczyk is originally from.

The latest developments:

- BCA says Officer Matthew Harrity, who was in the car with Noor, gave a statement to investigators Tuesday

- So far, BCA says Noor has declined to speak to investigators, and his lawyer has not said if or when he will

- Preliminary investigation finds that Noor fired at Ruszczyk from the passenger seat of his police vehicle

- The officers turned on body cameras after the shooting; the squad car camera was never turned on

- The police department has opened an internal affairs use of force review, assistant chief says

Investigations could take months

It's been three days since the Australian-born Minnesota woman was killed after calling 911 to report a possible assault. And, it may be several more months before the state's Department of Public Safety reveals exactly what happened.

The department's BCA investigation is expected to last two to four months, said Chuck Laszewski, spokesman for the Hennepin County attorney's office.

Once that happens, county attorney Mike Freeman -- not a grand jury -- will decide whether either of the two officers involved should be charged in Ruszczyk's death.

Meanwhile, frustration over the lack of information grows.

"Her family and I have been provided with almost no additional information from law enforcement regarding what happened after police arrived," Ruszczyk's fianc-, Don Damond said Monday. "We are desperate for information."

City Council member Linea Palmisano said some documents from the case would be released online Wednesday morning. Those documents were shared with Ruszczyk's family Tuesday night, she said.

What we know about the shooting

According to the BCA, Harrity was driving and Noor was in the passenger seat as they drove through the alley looking for a suspect. The squad lights on their vehicle were off.

Harrity told investigators that as they drove down the alley, he was startled by a loud sound near the squad car. Immediately afterward, Ruszczyk approached the driver's side window and Noor fired his weapon, striking Ruszczyk through the driver's side window, Harrity told the BCA.

The officers exited the vehicle and provided medical attention until medical staff arrived. Ruszczyk was pronounced dead at the scene.

Both officers are on administrative leave.

Body camera policy under review

Minneapolis police policy says body cameras should be turned on prior to use of force "as soon as it is safe to do so" and during "any contact involving criminal activity."

According to the BCA, the officers turned their cameras on after the shooting and the squad car camera was not turned on.

But the department is currently in the process of rolling out body cameras to all units and officers, and an updated policy is forthcoming, Minneapolis Assistant Police Chief Mederia Arradondo said at Tuesday's news conference.

The department was eight months away from a full department-wide rollout, he said. A quality assurance commander recently had been appointed to complete a full review of the program. By the end of next month, mandated supervisor training will be completed throughout the entire department; front line supervisors have been tasked with ensuring officers increase the activation of their body worn cameras, he said.

Meanwhile, the department has opened an internal affairs use of force review, he said. It's on hold while the BCA has custody of evidence for its investigation.

The mayor lamented the lack of body camera footage as yet another crucial piece of missing information. But she called for patience as the investigation continues, stressing the importance of the independent investigation.

"The information the BCA has shared today gets us closer to having answers, closer to seeing justice done. And we do have more information now, though it's frustrating to have some of the picture, but not all of it," she said.

"I share the frustration and the dismay that we don't have body camera footage. I will say that body cameras are a very powerful tool, not an infallible tool, but a powerful one that have proven useful in our investigations. But we have been and we will work to make sure we have the strongest policies possible."

Officer extends condolences

Both officers were previously identified by their attorneys. Noor offered his condolences to Ruszczyk's family, in a statement from his attorney.

"He takes these events very seriously because, for him, being a police officer is a calling," attorney Tom Plunkett said in the statement. "He joined the police force to serve the community and to protect the people he serves. Officer Noor is a caring person with a family he loves and he empathizes with the loss others are experiencing."

Plunkett said he and his client "would like to say more, and will in the future ... however, there are several investigations ongoing and Officer Noor wants to respect the privacy to the family and asks the same in return during this difficult period."

Harrity was the other officer who responded, said Harrity's attorney, Frederic Bruno.

But exactly what caused the shooting remains a mystery.

Grief in two countries

Ruszczyk, 40, was originally from Australia but moved to the United States in 2014. She was living with Damond, her fianc-, at the time of her death. They were planning to marry in August.

"It is difficult to fathom how to go forward without her in my life," Damond said Monday. "Our hearts are broken and we are utterly devastated by the loss of Justine."

Halfway around the world, Ruszczyk's father made an emotional plea for justice.

"Justine, our daughter was so special to us and to so many others," John Ruszczyk told journalists in Australia. "Justine was a beacon to all of us. We only ask that the light of justice shine down on the circumstances of her death."

Ruszczyk has dual citizenship in the United States and Australia because her father holds US citizenship, a source who knew her said. The country's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it is providing consular assistance to the woman's family.

"The death of Justine is a loss to everyone who knew her. She touched so many people with her loving and generous heart," Damond said. "Our lives are forever changed as a result of knowing her. She was so kind, and so darn funny. She made us all laugh with her great wit and her humor."

'She was a healer'

According to her website, Ruszczyk trained as a veterinarian and later became a yoga instructor and life coach. She worked at the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community in Minneapolis.

Nancy Coune, an administrator with the community, described Ruszczyk as a "gifted speaker" who imparted a message "of love and peace and non-violence."

"Justine was dedicated to helping others make transformations in their lives, through teaching and coaching," Coune said. "She was an amazing leader for bridging the gap between science and spirituality in a way that was easy to understand and fun."

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