The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) remains unresponsive to queries about the circumstances the led to the shooting death of an Australian yoga and meditation instructor on Saturday night in Minneapolis. Also, Spero News contacted the Minneapolis Police Department about the case that has galvanized the attention of the Twin Cities, and the entire nation of Australia.

According to various media and official accounts, Justine Damond, 40, called 911 to report a disturbance in her upper-middle-class Minneapolis neighborhood at around 11:30 p.m. on Saturday. 

Seated in the passenger seat of the squad car was Officer Mohamed Noor, 31, a rookie of just two years’ experience. A native of Somalia, just last year he was praised by Democrat Mayor Betsy Hodges for taking the step to become one of the few Somali-Americans on the force. He was the first in the 5th Precinct of Minneapolis. While Damond was speaking to Noor’s partner, who was in the driver’s seat, for as yet unknown reasons Noor drew his service weapon and reached across his partner and shot Damond in the abdomen, killing her.

Damond was holding a cell phone in her hand and talking to the officer in the driver’s seat of the squad car before she was shot. Police admit that no weapons were found at the scene. The only concrete statement by the BCA confirmed that “at one point an officer fired their weapon, fatally striking a woman.” Damond was known to be anti-gun, and could not have been armed, said a friend to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. She also often spoke in favor of Australia’s strict gun-control laws. She was to be married in August.

Neighbors, friends, community activists, and politicians showed up for a vigil outside the Damonds' home. Fiance Don Damond and his son Zach gave emotional tributes to Justine Damond, expressing disbelief and shock over the shooting. Leslie Redmond of the Minneapolis NAACP said she and other members of the NAACP who attended expressed solidarity with the Damond family. The NAACP, as was the Black Lives Matter movement, was active in complaints and protests over the shooting death last year of Philando Castile -- a black motorist and school employee who was shot to death by an officer just outside Minneapolis. The officer in question testified that he thought Castile was reaching for a gun. In self-defense, he shot Castile. He was acquitted and later resigned from the police force.

A history of violence

Noor, who joined the force in March 2015, was already under investigation for “violently” forcing a woman to a hospital, according to court documents. He has a total of three complaints filed against. One complaint made in 2016 is now closed, while there are two pending from this year. According to Lou Raguse of Kare 11, the 2016 case is marked “not to be made public.”

There is a pending lawsuit concerning a May 25, 2017 call when Noor and two other officers took a woman to hospital. She alleges false imprisonment, assault and battery on their part. The woman claimed the Noor “grabbed her right wrist and upper arm' when moving her, leaving her 'immobilized.'” She is a retired social worker, and alleged that she had called 911 to “report an unknown young male who was sitting on her retaining wall behind her house smoking marijuana.”

Officers followed up on her complaint. However, they returned 8 p.m. to carry out a welfare check after relatives allegedly said that she had “some sort of mental health problem.” The woman allegedly instructed the officers to leave, but then they forced their way in through a screen door and told her she was going to hospital for a “mental health crisis.” The lawsuit claims “Defendant Officer Noor grabbed Plaintiff's phone from her hand and then grabbed her right wrist and upper arm, thereby immobilizing her.” The complainant was eventually released from hospital one and a half hours later after a physician ordered her discharge. 

Mohamed Noor

No body-cams, no witnesses

The case of the Damond shooting is complicated by the fact that the body cameras of the two rookie cops were not turned on at the time, nor were they turned on afterwards. There is an audio recording of the police radio calls, which records the officers’ call for back-up and then medical attention.

Minneapolis-area police have had body cameras since 2016, following a controversial case involving the police shooting of a black motorist, Philando Castile. The portable video recorders were introduced so as to address complaints about the behavior of officers and to ensure the collection of vital video evidence. According to Minneapolis government policy, the body cameras must be turned on by when police anticipate they may be involved in certain situations. These include: traffic stops, arrests, physical confrontations, crimes in progress, and suspicious person stops.

According to information from the Minneapolis municipal government, last week it was revealed that the use of body cameras by officers in Minneapolis was low as 4 percent in some areas when responding to 911 calls.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman told the Star Tribune on Monday that the officers’ body cameras should have been operating when they responded to Damond's call. “I do understand this, they were driving down an alley, the victim approached the car. That's not necessarily a time you must [be taping], but frankly I think it's a time you should,” he said. So far, Freeman is not certain whether or not charge Noor. There were no witnesses to the shooting other than the two police officers involved.

Minneapolis Chief of Police Janeé Harteau stated on Monday that the death was tragic. “I have many of the same questions and it is why we immediately asked for an external and independent investigation into the officer-involved shooting death,” said Harteau.

“I also want to assure you that I understand why so many people have so many questions at this point,” said Harteau. “I've asked for the investigation to be expedited to provide transparency and to answer as many questions as quickly as we can.”

Mayor Betsy Hodges has called on BCA to release information as soon as possible.

Both Noor and his partner, the driver of the squad car, have been placed on administrative leave pending the investigation. Sources have told the Minneapolis newspaper that Noor’s partner is Officer Matthew Harrity, 25. He became an officer last year. He has a lawyer. 

According to KARE11, police sources say Noor shot across his partner and out the window of the squad car, striking Damond. When Noor opened fire, his partner -- Harrity -- was “stunned,'” said the KARE11 report.

Noor’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said in a statement that his client  “takes these events very seriously.”

“He joined the police force to serve the community and to protect the people he serves,” Plunkett said. “Officer Noor is a caring person with a family he loves, and he empathizes with the loss others are experiencing.”

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on July 19 that his government is committed to seeking answers for the family. “This is a shocking killing. It is inexplicable,” he told the Nine Network. “How can a woman out in the street in her pyjamas, seeking assistance from police be shot like that? It is a shocking killing, and we are demanding answers on behalf of her family.” News.com.au of Australia called the shooting "reckless."

A veteran security consultant with contacts in law enforcement agencies across the country told Spero News said that it is unusual for two rookie cops to be placed together on the same shift and in the same vehicle. Additionally, the fact that their body cameras were not engaged or malfunctioning is troubling. That Noor may have essentially shot through the driver’s side window and so close to his own partner is a departure from procedure. Officer Noor reportedly had drawn his service weapon while responding to the call, the consultant said.

Below is an audio recording of police radio calls concerning the Damond shooting:

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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