July 15, 2017, Minneapolis, MN, 2330. Justine Damond, home alone, heard what she thought was a woman screaming in the area behind her home. She lived in a nice neighborhood, with expensive homes, and large, fenced in backyards with an alley behind. She called the police and told them the woman might just be having loud sex. Two officers, Matthew Harrity, and Mohamed Noor responded. They were told only that they were responding to a noise complaint, a woman screaming. This is a common, routine call, and the officers handled it that way.
Rather than parking their car a safe distance away and walking the alley on foot, they turned off their lights and drove down the alley, making it difficult, if not impossible, to see or hear anything. As they neared the end of the alley, Harrity later testified they heard a sound, like something slapping their car, and saw a shadow, or movement, or something near Harrity’s driver’s side window. Harrity was shocked when Noor, who had his handgun in his lap, thrust it across Harrity’s body and fired one shot, though Harrity’s open window, into Damond’s abdomen.
Damond, 40, was a recent immigrant from Australia, soon to be married. She was wearing only pajamas, and carrying only a cell phone. She died within minutes. It is most likely she saw the officers continuing down the alley without stopping, feared they’d just drive off–which was likely their intention– nd tried to get their attention to let them know what she heard and where. Her civic mindedness put her in proximity of someone who never should have been a policeman.
Mohamed Noor was a new officer, and the first from Somalia on the Minneapolis police force. Minneapolis, a liberal bastion, was apparently doing everything it could to build a “diverse” police force, particularly from the large and politically powerful Somali community. Noor was praised to the heavens by Mayor Betsy Hodges. There is significant evidence Noor’s training was fast tracked, making it likely he was, at best, undertrained. He had only 21 months on the job, Harrity only a year.
Politics immediately played a huge role in the case. The police chief, a minority lesbian, was fired, illustrating that a black Somali Muslim had much more political juice than a minority lesbian. Noor refused to cooperate with the investigation, and the prosecutor, Mike Freeman, took nine months to decide to charge Noor, a ridiculously long time for a cut and dried case. If you or I did what Noor did, gentle readers, we would have been in jail within minutes, charged with homicide.
Here’s an excerpt from Update 13.3, my suggestion for a prosecutor’s closing argument to the jury:
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this is a case about fear, fear and belief. Mohamed Noor would have you believe a call of a woman screaming was particularly dangerous. Police officers routinely handle this kind of non-emergency call, but he would have you believe it anyway.
He would have you believe he feared an ambush, but instead of parking a safe distance away and walking that alley, walking so he could see and hear clearly, walking so he could use cover and concealment and the night itself, walking so Officer Harrity and he could cover each other, he chose to turn off the lights of his patrol car and noisily and blindly cruise down that alley, making himself an obvious target, making it easy for his imaginary ambushers.
He would have you believe that hearing a noise, an unidentified noise that startled him, that scared him so badly he feared for his life, it was reasonable for him to shoot at mere movement, the first person he saw: Justine Damond.
He would have you believe it was inherently reasonable for him to shoot Justine Damond, without warning, across the body of his partner, inches from his face and chest. He would have you believe she, a woman in her pajamas, the person who called for him, a woman carrying only a cell phone, was putting his life in imminent jeopardy.
Mohamed Noor would have you believe all of this was the act of a reasonable, well-trained, experienced police officer. It was what any competent, professional police officer would have done were he in that alley, that night. If he’s right, God help us all.
God help us all, because this is not about reason, but fear, sheer, naked, stark, unreasonable, debilitating fear. It was the fear reasonable police officers are trained to control, the fear we expect them to control so they don’t shoot innocent, non-threatening citizens, citizens trying to report a possible crime, citizens in their pajamas, citizens only trying to speak with them, to direct them to where someone might need help. It is the fear we expect them to control, we need them to control, because if they don’t, people like Justine Damond die. People like our daughters, our wives, our mothers, die.
It was fear that caused Mohamed Noor to use bad tactics, to hide in his metal, rolling safe room. It was fear that caused Mohamed Noor to draw and clutch his gun. It was fear that so terrified him he couldn’t think. He could only jerk the trigger of the gun that should have been in his holster, to shoot at movement, or a shadow that turned out to be a human being. It was fear that caused him to shoot in the face of his partner. It was fear that killed Justine Damond, not reasonable fear born of professional, concrete observations, but unreasoning, stupefying, blind panic born of a lack of ability and temperament necessary to be a reasonable police officer, a police officer that would never have shot and killed Justine Damond, because he would have been in control of himself. Mohamed Noor wasn’t. Mohamed Noor wasn’t reasonable, and the proof of that is Justine Damond is dead. Is that what we think reasonable behavior in our police officers? Is that to be the standard?
Noor is out on bond, awaiting trial. I would not be surprised if he slips out of the country, back to Somalia.
Damond’s family and fiancé have retained counsel, and I’m sure negotiations are underway with the City. If there is any justice in Minneapolis, rather than the usual social justice, the only issue will be how much Minneapolis will have to pay.
I remain unconvinced Prosecutor Freeman intends to present a compelling, competent case. I would not be surprised to see a lame plea bargain–if that. In Minneapolis, a year after a panicky, undertrained cop killed Justine Damond, justice remains uncertain, and Minneapolis officers remain easily startled.
UPDATE, 07-15-18 1645 CST: Justine Damond was remembered in ceremonies in Minneapolis and Australia:
A bright cascade of flowers covered a brand-new park bench near Minnehaha Creek dedicated Saturday to the memory of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, killed one year ago this weekend by a Minneapolis police officer.
Many in the crowd of about 100 people who came out to honor Damond, including Mayor Jacob Frey, carried pink flowers that they would later drop into the creek. The quiet, solemn event was planned with her roles as meditation teacher and spiritual healer in mind.
The bench site was chosen because it’s where Damond and her fiancé, Don Damond, who was present Saturday along with his mother, Sharon Sebring, first expressed their love for one another, organizers said. After a brief ceremony, people mingled in the street in a block closed off for the event.
The 3:30 p.m. bench dedication time was chosen because Damond’s relatives in her native Australia, joined by Don Damond’s son, Zach, were gathered at a beach there at the same time — though it was sunrise in Australia.
‘Whether it was ducklings stuck in a sewer pipe or a woman calling for help, Justine gave her life helping somebody,’ Don Damond told the crowd. He thanked those gathered for helping him and his family get through their time of grief.
‘You opened your hearts and offered so much,’ he said. ‘As soon as that bullet pierced Justine’s body, it pierced my heart, too.’
Later Saturday, a candlelight walk was planned from the Damonds’ home in the 5000 block of Washburn Avenue S. down the back alley to the spot where Damond was fatally shot by Officer Mohammed Noor on July 15, 2017.