Justine Damond, a 40-year-old south Minneapolis yoga teacher, called 911 late in the evening of July 15, 2017. She thought she'd heard the sounds of a woman being raped in the alley behind her house.
Minneapolis police officers scoped the area but found nothing. As they drove down a nearby alley, Damond ran up out of the darkness in her pajamas and slapped the back of the car. Startled, the officer in the passenger seat, Mohamed Noor, instantly shot her in the stomach through the driver's side window.
Damond died in the alley.
As news of her shooting engulfed her native Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pleaded for swift justice.
It turned out to be an impossible demand. Neither of the police officers in the car had their body cameras turned on, and Noor refused to speak with investigators. A bicyclist who’d stopped shortly near the scene was the lone third-party witness.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who initially promised a charging decision before the end of 2017, later confided to a group of union activists that he couldn’t meet his self-imposed deadline because investigators hadn’t done a good enough job collecting evidence.
In February he convened a grand jury to compel testimony from Noor’s partner and other officers. On Tuesday, he finally leveled charges against Noor, accusing him of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The criminal complaint describes how Noor and his partner Matthew Harrity investigated the alley behind Damond’s home the night she was killed. Shortly after they cleared the call, Harrity said he heard a thump against the back of the squad, heard a whisper, and caught a glimpse of Damond outside the window, standing too close for him to see her hands.
Harrity was startled, according to the complaint. He claimed he was worried for his life, and pulled his gun, pointing it downward as he tried to assess the threat.
Suddenly a shot rang out, and Damond clutched her abdomen. Harrity turned to find Noor with his arm extended.
“There is no evidence that, in that short timeline, Officer Noor encountered, appreciated, investigated or confirmed a threat that justified the decision to use deadly force,” according to the complaint.
“Instead, Officer Noor recklessly and intentionally fired his handgun from the passenger seat, a location at which he would have been less able than Officer Harrity to see and hear events on the other side of the squad car. The bullet traveled across the space in the squad car just in front of, but not occupied, Officer Harrity’s head or body.”
With few witnesses and no audio or video evidence, Freeman faces a high standard of proof when it comes to prosecuting a police officer, especially when Noor's supporters have argued that officers must be ever aware of the danger of being ambushed in dark alleys.
In 2016 the county attorney decided not to charge the two Minneapolis officers involved in the shooting of unarmed 24-year-old Jamar Clark, who was killed when Officer Dustin Schwarz attempted to flip him during his handcuffing, causing Clark to fall on top of Schwarz with Schwarz’ gun in between them. The officer claimed he feared for his life.
Last year, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi pressed charges against St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez after he killed St. Paul Public Schools cafeteria worker Philando Castile during a traffic stop. Castile, who had a concealed carry permit, was in the process of telling Yanez that he had a gun when the officer shot him multiple times. Yanez also claimed to have feared for his life.