Minneapolis police officers Matthew Harrity and Mohamed Noor eased their patrol vehicle into the darkened alley in response to a call of a possible assault Saturday night in the affluent South Side neighborhood. The squad’s lights were off and a loud noise startled Harrity as they reached an intersection.

In the next moment, Justine Damond, the woman who called 911, approached Harrity, who was in the driver’s seat.

Suddenly, for reasons still unclear, Noor fired across his partner through squad’s open window, striking Damond in the abdomen. They began CPR, but she was dead 20 minutes later.

After nearly three days of silence, the agency on Tuesday released the first preliminary account of what happened that night based on an interview with Harrity, 25.

The fatal shooting of Damond, a 40-year-old spiritual healer from Australia who was engaged to be married, has made international headlines in the days since it happened, stirring community unrest toward police and calls from family and friends for an explanation as to why Noor, 31, shot her.

The new information from the BCA does not fully answer those questions — in part because Noor refused to be interviewed by investigators, so his mind-set is still a mystery — but it offers a timeline of what happened that night. The BCA said Noor’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, has not indicated whether the officer will give an interview. He did not respond to a request for comment. Harrity’s attorney, Fred Bruno, confirmed he was representing Harrity but did not comment further.

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Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, who was discussing the latest developments Tuesday night with Assistant Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and City Council Member Linea Palmisano, said the information released puts the case closer to answer and justice.

As her family previously reported, the BCA said it was Damond, identified by her given name of Justine Ruszczyk, who called 911 that night. Around 11:30 p.m., she reported hearing screaming in the alley, and worried there might be an assault taking place.

The BCA directed questions about whether an assault report was filed to MPD, who deflected the question back to BCA.

The responding officers had not been on the force long. Harrity had been hired a year ago; Noor two years prior. They drove through the alley between Washburn and Xerxes avenues S., toward 51st Street West, with the squad lights turned off. As they reached the street, “Harrity indicated that he was startled by a loud sound near the squad,” according to the preliminary BCA investigation.

After Noor shot Damond, the officers quickly exited the car and started performing CPR until medical responders arrived. Damond was pronounced dead at the scene.

The officers were wearing body cameras, but they did not turn them on until after the shooting, according to the BCA. Investigators say they are not aware of any video or audio of the shooting.

The investigation is still active, but the BCA account of events says the agency has briefed the Hennepin County Attorneys’ Office about the preliminary findings. Once the investigation is completed, all materials will go to the county attorney to review.

Investigators have no interviews scheduled for now, though they are looking for a white male bicyclist aged 18-25 they say stopped and watched officers give medical assistance, and other witnesses to the incident. They are also still completing forensic testing.

On Tuesday, a Minneapolis Somali police officer anonymously spoke on behalf of he and his eight Somali colleagues, expressing both condolences to Damond’s family, as well as fear.

“We can’t imagine the pain and suffering the victim’s family is going through and our hearts go out to them,” he said, adding that some reporters have been staking out their homes and knocking on their doors.

“This is scaring our families. It’s difficult to deal with some media groups going to other Somali officers’ houses who are not involved in this shooting. It makes it hard to do this job when you’re worried about your family.”

Staff writers James Eli Shiffer, Paul Walsh, Faiza Mahamud, Libor Jany and Brandon Stahl contributed to this report.


(c)2017 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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