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Mike Freeman needs more time to contemplate what “reasonable” means.

Hennepin County Prosecutor Mike Freeman

On Christmas Day, 2017, I posted Update 15: Political Calculations, which included this observation about Hennepin County Prosecutor, Mike Freeman:

Freeman also said he’ll be speaking about ‘the status of his charging decision’ next week, presumably after Christmas. Notice Freeman didn’t say he’d announce a decision on charges, merely that he’d talk about the status of that decision, which one suspects will go something like: ‘we are working diligently on this case and expect to announce a decision sometime or other. This stuff is complex. Really complex. So complex I can’t tell you how complex it is. And complex too. Thank you for coming; no more questions.

 Lest readers begin to think me psychic, let’s see what Freeman’s office actually said on 12-28-17. I haven’t been able to find an apparently complete statement, but have pieced this together from The Minneapolis Star Tribune, another Star Tribune Story, and a story from the local Fox channel:

Justine Damond

A dedicated team in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has been working diligently since we received the case in mid-September. Our goal was to complete the review and make a decision on whether or not to bring charges by the end of the year. We are getting more information and evidence and additional investigation must be completed. As I have mentioned before, the investigation and review of the case will not be rushed. It is more important to get it right than to get it done quickly.

The stories note Freeman also called the “Damond family,” though the stories only suggest this included the Ruszczyk family in Australia as well as Damond’s fiancé in Minneapolis:

He expressed the deepest sympathies from himself and the Hennepin County attorney’s office and explained why there would be no decision by Dec. 31. He also informed them that there is no timetable for when the decision will be made,’ his office said in a statement.

Oh yes, and the prosecutor’s office took no questions, and said they’ll have nothing else to say while the case is “under investigation.” I’m sure it’s complex–really complex.

Fox 9 published these statements:

Justine Damond and her father.

Damond family statement:

We have lost our beloved Justine Damond Ruszczyk.

We are still trying to come to terms with this tragedy and we are struggling to understand how and why this could happen.

The family, in Australia and in the USA, is devastated by our loss.

We want to see the investigation reach a conclusion, as soon as possible, so that we have some resolution to the tragedy.

We are in constant contact with the Australian Government, and representatives of the US Government and Minnesota State authorities.

We will not comment on any of the events surrounding, or since, Justine’s death.

We ask that you give us time and space to grieve.

Don and Justine Damond

An attorney [probably Bob Bennett] representing the Damond family also released this statement:

We support Mr. Freeman’s decision to take additional time to ensure the investigation is rigorous and complete. We want justice and appreciate the support from all those who want the same. We ask for the public’s patience to allow the investigation to continue. 

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo statement:

I am aware of the statement issued by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman today.

The tragic shooting death of Ms. Justine Ruszczyk Damond has impacted so many people here in Minneapolis and beyond our state.

The MPD will continue to await the conclusion of this independent investigation and the Hennepin County Attorneys charging decision.

Attorney Tom Plunkett, who is representing Officer Noor, statement:

Officer Noor extends his thoughts and wishes to the Ruszczyk Damond family. I am concerned by the statement’s suggestion that Mr. Freeman has taken the investigation in-house. Objectivity and Integrity are the keys to ‘get it right’ recent developments do give us pause on this point.

Noor “extends his thoughts and wishes”? What does that mean? Freeman said: We are getting more information and evidence and additional investigation must be completed.” What, exactly, is this information and evidence, and what must be investigated? Is Freeman partnering with OJ to find the real killer? Is he searching for Amelia Earhart? The Lock Ness monster? Bigfoot?

As regular readers know, this is not a complex case. Every possible element, every known bit of evidence, would have been collected and fulfilled within hours of Damond’s death. Mohamed Noor shot her. He used his duty handgun. Officer Matthew Harrity was right there and likely collected some of the muzzle blast of Noor’s gun, possibly with his face. There was only one additional witness, a bicyclist, who by all accounts, didn’t see the actual shooting but only its aftermath. No one else is known to have been in that alley, or in any position to see anything. Absent unimaginable circumstances, there is no additional evidence to collect, no additional information to investigate. Does Freeman expect some kind of Perry Mason last minute confession, exonerating Noor?

As I’ve been steadily documenting, there are many odd elements in this case. Had Damond been shot by anyone other than a police officer in similar circumstances, that unlucky person would have been arrested within minutes–a few hours at most–and arraigned that morning. The police normally take seriously innocent people shot and killed without cause. As I noted in Update 7.2, the BCA’s bizarre and unlawful search of Damond’s home, which played no role whatever in her death, could be nothing other than a fishing expedition, a desperate attempt to find something–anything–to help justify Noor’s killing of Damond. But according to the BCA’s warrant return, they found nothing at all, no drugs, no anti-police writings or rhetoric, not a scrap of evidence relating to her death, which is unsurprising as she was killed in an alley at least a half block from that home.

Thus far, freeman has behaved unprofessionally, accusing investigators of incompetence, perhaps even sabotage, and running his mouth like a dim-witted novice.

Final Thoughts:

In this case, all investigation in this particularly non-complex case should have been wrapped up within two weeks, and I’m being generous with that timeline. Even if additional issues arose that required follow up investigation, that sort of thing could normally be handled within days. Any competent prosecutor could have reviewed the law and all necessary precedent within another few weeks, taking the announcement of a charging decision to the third week of October.

Let’s review what Noor and Harrity–by all currently known information–should have known:

The radio call sent them to the area behind Damond’s home where a woman was reported screaming. There was apparently nothing more told them. This kind of call is absolutely routine. If the officers suspected danger, or particularly an ambush, their actions didn’t reflect that belief. Instead of parking some distance away and approaching silently, on foot, listening and taking advantage of cover and concealment, they turned off their vehicle lights and simply rolled down the alley. They couldn’t hear, and anyone up to no good–particularly anyone waiting to ambush them–had every advantage. If Noor and Harrity thought they were about to be ambushed, they made it easy for the ambushers.

We do not know exactly what happened, but it’s possible Damond tapped the trunk of the police car in an attempt to stop and speak with the officers, who had obviously rolled far past her home. Damond had no reason to think the police would shoot her for approaching their car; who would? With his handgun already in his hand, Noor apparently fired at movement, a dark shape approaching Harrity’s window, perhaps even an impression of sound or movement. We’re not sure whether that window was open. It is likely he had no idea what that shape was. He saw movement; he fired. We still have no firm timeline. We don’t know precisely when the officers arrived, or if Damond had even a few seconds to try to speak to the officers before Noor shot her. We do know the encounter happened within a few minutes.

We assume Noor was seated in the vehicle when he fired, but it’s also possible he exited the vehicle and fired at movement, though that seems less likely at this point. Most likely is that Noor, in a blind panic, his handgun already in his hand, his finger on the trigger, thrust the gun toward sound, movement or both and fired, oblivious to Harrity, and having no idea who or what he was shooting.

In order to let Noor slide, Freeman is going to have to buy into several incredible arguments:

Mohamed Noor (center)

1) The national political climate is such that all police officers everywhere are entirely justified in believing they might be ambushed at any moment. Merely being a police officer is to perpetually face imminent deadly danger.

2) Any officer answering a routine noise complaint, particularly at night, is justified in thinking himself in deadly danger merely by the nature of the call and the location.

3) Any professional, experienced, reasonable police officer in the same situation would have acted exactly as Noor did and killed Damond. Or in the alternative:

4) There is no “reasonable police officer” standard. Mohamed Noor–any officer–may believe himself to be in deadly danger and reply with deadly force regardless of whether he was in such danger or not. His belief, then and there, even if utterly unfounded, is all that is required.

5) Any officer, startled for any reason, such as a nearby loud noise, is justified in believing himself under deadly attack.

6) Such an officer has no duty to clearly identify a potential target by flashlight or other means. He can react to sound, movement or both.

7) Such an officer has no duty to the safety of his fellow officers, and may fire his handgun, without warning, across their bodies, even in their faces.

8) Any police officer, considering all of the aforementioned factors, is entirely justified in having his handgun in his hand at any time for any reason.

The alternative is the standards under which I lived as a police officer: Officers are expected to keep their heads in dangerous situations. They are expected to know the difference between routine, non-dangerous calls and potential danger. They are absolutely responsible for employing intelligent, sound tactics. Any officer thinking everyone a deadly danger is psychologically unfit for the job. No officers draws his handgun unless reasonably certain it is necessary. No officer fires without being absolutely certain of their target and the backstop. No officer fires without being certain they are in imminent deadly danger. All officers are responsible for every round they fire. Any officer would rather sustain injury than accidently shoot an innocent.

Prosecutor Freeman sounds and acts very much like a man under intense political pressure. He appears to be a man trying desperately to find a way to absolve Noor. I suspect time will not lessen the blow if he buys the incredible arguments I’ve outlined. In fact, the longer he takes, the more destructive the blacklash from normal, non-progressive Americans who, given the choice between Mohamed Noor, and a reasonable, professional police officer, know who they want their wives or daughters to meet in a dark alley.

The SMM Damond case archive is here.

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