Author: Mike Callahan
MINNEAPOLIS — The family of an Australian woman who was killed by a former Minneapolis police officer last year after she called 911 to report a possible assault filed a lawsuit Monday alleging the officer was unfit for duty and conspired with his partner to hide what really happened.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court alleges Justine Ruszczyk Damond’s civil rights were violated when she was shot July 15, 2017, by former Officer Mohamed Noor. It claims Noor and his partner that night, Officer Matthew Harrity, conspired to cover up facts surrounding the shooting and made a conscious decision not to activate their body cameras.
“Had they done so, there would be video and audio recording of the fatal shooting of Justine, and Harrity and Noor would not be free to concoct a story in a vain attempt to insulate Noor from civil and criminal liability,” the lawsuit says.
It also alleges the Minneapolis Police Department failed to discipline officers who didn’t use body cameras. And, it says a change in the way job candidates are screened put dangerously unqualified officers on the street.
The shooting of Damond, who had been living in the U.S. for more than two years when she was killed, drew international attention last year, cost the police chief her job and forced major revisions to the department’s policy on body cameras.
The lawsuit, filed by Damond’s father, John Ruszczyk, seeks monetary damages. It names both officers, the city, and the current and former police chief as defendants. Justine Damond’s legal name is Justine Ruszczyk, but she had been using the last name of her fiance, Don Damond, professionally.
The Police Department referred questions about the lawsuit to the city attorney, who didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment. Noor’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, has said previously that that Noor acted as he had been trained.
Prosecutors have charged Noor with murder, alleging he acted recklessly with disregard for human life. Prosecutors say there was no evidence Noor encountered a threat that justified the use of deadly force. His criminal case is pending and he was fired from the Police Department.
Prosecutors say Damond, a 40-year-old life coach, had called 911 on July 15, 2017, to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home. Noor responded with Harrity, who was driving. Prosecutors say Harrity told investigators he heard a voice and a thump on the back of the squad car, and glimpsed a person’s head and shoulders outside his window.
Harrity told investigators that both officers got “spooked” before Noor fired.
The officers did not turn on their body cameras until after the shooting. There was no squad camera video.
Noor has refused to speak with investigators, invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination. The lawsuit alleges Harrity’s account of what happened changed after he spoke with an attorney.
According to the lawsuit, at the time Noor and Harrity were hired, the city used only one psychological test to determine whether candidates were fit to be on the street, down from five tests in use prior to 2012. It says the city failed to ascertain whether hundreds of officers are actually fit for duty.
“The consequence is that certain MPD officers are ill-prepared, ill-equipped and unfit to perform obvious and recurring duties of police officers, including the use of force and the use of deadly force,” the lawsuit says. “Here, it led to the fatal shooting of Justine who stood unarmed, in her pajamas, and ready to help others.”