March 26, 2019 09:24 AM
Now-former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor was charged Tuesday with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for fatally shooting Justine Damond last July.
Noor turned himself in late Tuesday morning and is being held at the Hennepin County Jail on $500,000 bail.
If convicted of third-degree murder, he could face a maximum of 25 years in prison. A judge could issue a sentence ranging from about 10 ½ to 15 years. The second-degree manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo said in a statement that Tuesday marked Noor's final day as a member of the department.
"Mohamed Noor was hired by the Minneapolis Police Department on March 23rd, 2015, and his end date is March 20th, 2018," read part of Arradondo's statement. "At the request of the County Attorney's Office I delayed any employment related decisions in this matter as to not in any way interfere with the criminal investigation in this case."
According to the criminal complaint filed against him, prosecutors say at the time of the shooting Noor neither investigated nor confirmed a threat "that justified the decision to use deadly force."
The complaint also states Noor "recklessly fired his handgun" when he shot Damond, leaving her with her hands on a gunshot wound to the left side of her abdomen, saying "I'm dying" or "I'm dead."
"To lose a family member to violence is always wrenching and painful," Hennepin County Mike Freeman said at a press conference discussing the charges Tuesday afternoon.
"But to lose one when she was acting as a concerned and caring citizen, at the hands of a person she had called for help, is inexplicable."
Noor's attorney Tom Plunkett said in a statement that Noor again personally extended his condolences to Damond's family. But that the facts presented at trial will show his client should not have been charged.
"The facts will show that Officer Noor acted as he has been trained and consistent with established departmental policy," read part of the statement. "Officer Noor should not have been charged with any crime."
Noor becomes the second Minnesota police officer in 16 months to be charged in the fatal shooting of a civilian. A jury acquitted former St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez in June of similar charges in connection to the death of Philando Castile.
Minneapolis police chief Janee Harteau resigned in the wake of the shooting after a number of council members called for a change in leadership in the department.
The 40-year-old Damond's family issued a statement reacting to the news Tuesday:
Justine’s family in Australia and the US applaud today’s decision to criminally charge Officer Noor with Justine’s murder as one step toward justice for this iniquitous act. 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. We remain hopeful that a strong case will be presented by the prosecutor, backed by verified and detailed forensic evidence, and that this will lead to a conviction. No charges can bring our Justine back. However, justice demands accountability for those responsible for recklessly killing the fellow citizens they are sworn to protect, and today’s actions reflect that.
Noor and his partner, officer Matthew Harrity, responded to a 911 call in an alley on the 5100 block of Washburn Avenue late in the evening on July 15.
Damond had called 911 to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home. Harrity and Noor's squad car slowed to 2 miles per hour while driving through the alley, but never fully stopped behind Damond's house, the criminal complaint stated.
Harrity, who was driving the squad, later told investigators he was startled by a loud noise near his vehicle. That was followed immediately by Damond approaching the driver's side window. According to the criminal complaint, Noor had his gun out as the vehicle was driving down the alley.
Harrity said Noor, sitting in the passenger seat, then discharged his weapon, striking Damond through the open driver's side window.
He said he heard a voice or a thump somewhere outside the squad car and caught a glimpse of a person's head and shoulders outside his window, the complaint states.
"He (Harrity) was not able to articulate what the noise was, how loud it was, what the person's voice sounded like, or what the person said," the complaint states. "He characterized the voice as a muffled voice or whisper. He could not see whether the person was a male, female, adult, or child. He could not see the person's hands from the driver's seat and estimated the person was two feet away from him. He saw no weapons."
Harrity perceived his life was in danger, according to the complaint. He said he was startled and said "Oh sh*t" or "Oh Jesus."
He said he reached for his gun, un-holstered it, and held it to his ribcage while pointing it downward.
According to the complaint, he heard a sound that "sounded like a light bulb dropping on the floor and saw a flash. After first checking to see if he had been shot, he looked to his right and saw Officer Noor with his right arm extended in the direction of Officer Harrity."
Harrity reportedly said he did not see Noor's gun, but looked out his window and saw a woman put her hands on a gunshot wound on the left side of her abdomen.
Neither officer turned on their body cameras until after the shooting, and there was no squad-car camera video of the incident. The criminal complaint says after he got out of the car following the shooting, Harrity told Noor to "re-holster his gun and turn his body worn camera on."
The complaint states body-worn camera video afterward captured a conversation between Harrity and his supervising sergeant at the scene. In that conversation, Harrity reportedly said "we both got spooked," and that Noor had "pulled out and fired."
He also reportedly did not mention hearing a voice or noise before the shot was fired in that conversation.
A medical examiner's report said 40-year-old Damond died of a gunshot wound to the abdomen. The criminal complaint states the bullet that struck her had a backward, rightward, and slightly downward trajectory.
Noor has not spoken publicly about the case and declined to speak with investigators from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Grand Jury Convened
Freeman convened a grand jury in January to compel testimony and gather evidence related to the shooting after saying in December that additional investigation was necessary.
Police union chief Bob Kroll said at the time that more than 30 officers had been subpoenaed. Most of those subpoenaed were involved in Noor's training and education, Kroll said.
Freeman previously had said he would no longer use grand juries to decide on charges in police shootings, and that he would make those decisions himself in an effort to provide more accountability and transparency.
He stressed Tuesday he still feels that way, and that the decision to charge Noor was his alone. But he said the grand jury was needed because a number of Minneapolis police officers had declined to answer questions.
"Many of the officers in the Minneapolis Police Department came forward, and the first person was Chief (Medaria) Arradondo," Freeman said. "The very first.
"But a number of officers, for reasons we don't understand, though they told us they were advised by the Police Federation not to, declined to come and answer questions. I've been privileged to have this job almost 18 years. I've never had police officers who weren't suspects, refuse to do their duty and come forward to talk to us.
"We therefore had no alternative then to subpoena them to a grand jury and take their testimony that way."
In a statement posted to the group's Facebook page, Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis president Bob Kroll took issue with Freeman's statements, saying the federation's main duty is to protect the rights of its members and make sure they are aware of their rights.
He denied any officer was instructed not to speak with Freeman's office.
"During his press conference, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman stated the Police Federation advised officers to not cooperate in the investigation of the death of Justine Damond," the statement read. "The Federation takes great exception to this irresponsible statement.
"Early on, the Federation sought legal advice and briefed all board members on what our legal obligation was in offering advice to our officers that were requested to provide voluntary interviews with County Attorneys. Legal counsel was careful to advise board members that our duty was to inform officers of their rights and not to give direction or advice on whether to speak with County Attorneys or not.
"Many of our members under subpoena for Grand Jury had no involvement whatsoever with the incident. They were confused on why the County Attorney's office would want to speak with them. The Federation's duty is to protect the rights of its members and fully advise them of what their rights are. No opinions were offered on what action to take with any of our members.
"For Mr. Freeman to say this, he is either lying or perpetuating a lie told to him. This is evidenced by the fact that nothing in the criminal complaint was discovered during grand jury testimony. Mr. Freeman's underlying motive for requesting voluntary statements of our members was to strip them of their Garrity rights provided to public employees under law."
In December, Freeman was captured on video saying he didn't have enough evidence to charge Noor at the time because investigators "hadn't done their job."
He issued an apology to the state BCA.
And he said Tuesday that the investigation had been thorough.
"We feel we have, as best as humanly possible, looked at all the facts," Freeman said.
Plunkett's attorney, though, maintained Freeman's mind had been made up long ago.
"Based on public comments Mr. Freeman made as far back as 6 months ago and at a happy hour where he thought he was off the record, it appears he contemplated these charges long before the grand jury investigation he directed was even commenced," read part of Plunkett's statement.
Rebecca Omastiak, Joe Augustine and Frank Rajkowski
Updated: March 26, 2019 09:24 AM
Created: March 20, 2018 11:39 AM
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