SYDNEY – The family of an Australian woman who was fatally shot by a Minnesota police officer in July demanded a more rigorous probe Thursday after a prosecutor cast doubts on the investigation.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman faulted investigators last week when he complained that he doesn’t have enough evidence to charge Officer Mohamed Noor in the killing of Justine Ruszczyk Damond. Noor shot Damond in the alley behind her home after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault.
Reading a statement to reporters in Sydney, Damond’s father, John Ruszczyk, said the family was deeply concerned “about the possibility that the initial investigation was not done properly, and with the greatest integrity or sense of completeness.”
Ruszczyk said he and the rest of Damond’s family were demanding Freeman and his colleagues continue to pursue a rigorous investigation and examination of evidence in the shooting.
Freeman was captured on video at a Dec. 14 holiday reception expressing his frustration about the case. He said it wasn’t his fault that there was not enough evidence to charge Noor, and that investigators “haven’t done their job.” Noor has declined to speak with investigators.
Freeman didn’t name the investigators, but the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is leading the investigation. He has since said he didn’t know he was being filmed and apologized for discussing the agency’s work in a public setting.
Nevertheless, Damond’s father applauded Freeman’s candid statement.
“At the least, Mr. Freeman’s comments cast doubt on the description of how Justine’s death occurred as it was initially put out by the BCA and the attorney for the officer driving the squad car,” Ruszczyk said Thursday.
The BCA said in a statement after the family’s news conference that it is “committed to conducting a fair, impartial and thorough investigation as we gather the facts and evidence in this case.” The agency said it will continue to work with prosecutors as needed to provide additional information as the case is being reviewed.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton defended the BCA, saying he understands the family is distraught but the bureau has performed its job rigorously.
Freeman’s office declined to comment on Ruszczyk’s statement.
Noor fired at Damond from the passenger seat of a squad car, across his partner and through the driver’s window.
Damond’s death sparked protests and led to a police department shake-up, including the resignation of Chief Janee Harteau.
Flanked by three other family members, and pausing occasionally to compose himself, Ruszczyk said that after the shooting, authorities in Minneapolis had “looked me in the eye and said they were committed to getting to the truth of the event.”
“Now I hear that the Hennepin county attorney, to whom the BCA handed its investigative results, says that the investigation has not been done to the prosecutor’s satisfaction, or even to the expected levels of accuracy and thoroughness,” Ruszczyk said.
Ruszczyk cited a quote by American writer James Baldwin: “It is certain in any case that ignorance allied with power is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”
Ruszczyk said this was particularly true “when it comes to evaluating the use of deadly force by those sworn to protect us.”
He added: “Ignorance cannot prevail here.”
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