MINNEAPOLIS (CN) – A grand jury convened Tuesday over the fatal shooting of an Australian woman by a Minneapolis police officer last summer, a month after a state prosecutor called for further investigation.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman went back on his word and decided to use a grand jury in the officer-involved shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, 40, who was killed in an alley near her home when Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor and his partner, Officer Matthew Harrity, responded to her 911 call about a possible assault in the area.
She was dressed in pajamas when she died of a single gunshot wound to the abdomen, according to the Minnesota a Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, or BCA.
“The officers drove south through the alley between Washburn and Xerxes avenues toward West 51st Street in search of a suspect,” the BCA said in a statement last July. “All squad lights were off. As they reached West 51st Street, Officer Harrity indicated that he was startled by a loud sound near the squad. Immediately afterward Ruszczyk approached the driver’s side window of the squad. Harrity indicated that Officer Noor discharged his weapon, striking Ruszczyk through the open driver’s side window. The officers immediately exited the squad and provided medical attention until medical personnel arrived. Ruszczyk was pronounced dead at the scene.”
Freeman had previously stated that he would no longer use grand juries in police shooting cases due to the lack of transparency. Because of the secrecy of the proceedings, Freeman declined to confirm whether the grand jury is investigating the case, but said he would make his own decision on whether to charge Noor.
But Freeman's decision to use a grand jury was made public after more than 30 officers received subpoenas, about one month after he claimed there wasn't enough evidence and additional investigation was needed.
The officers subpoenaed will testify before the grand jury while prosecutors decide whether to charge Noor for Damond’s death.
Bob Kroll, president of the Minneapolis Police Federation, said many of the officers subpoenaed to testify were Noor's trainers and academy educators, according to the Star Tribune.
Officer Harrity has told investigators that he was "startled by a loud sound near the squad" when he and Noor arrived on the scene.
According to a Star Tribune report, Damond approached the driver's side window of the squad car "immediately afterward." Noor reportedly shot from the passenger seat, across his partner and through the window, hitting Damond in the abdomen. She died 20 minutes later.
At the time of her death, Damond worked as a life coach and shared a home with her fiancé in South Minneapolis. She was engaged to be married to U.S. citizen Don Damond, and already had taken his name.
Shortly after the incident, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called the killing “shocking” and “inexplicable,” and said his diplomats were requesting answers from U.S. officials. The officers’ body cameras were not turned on until after Damond was shot.
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