The mayor of Minneapolis said Thursday that it is “unacceptable” that no body-camera footage exists capturing a police officer fatally shooting an Australian woman in the city over the weekend, a case that has drawn international scrutiny and criticism.
Mayor Betsy Hodges also wrote in a blog post that based on information that investigators have released publicly, “the fatal shooting of Justine Damond should not have happened.”
Hodges was sharply critical of the fact that even though every patrol officer in Minneapolis wears a body camera, neither officer present when Damond was fatally shot late Saturday activated theirs, preventing authorities from having potentially key footage of what happened.
“We have put too much time, money, and effort into them to have them fail us when we needed them most,” Hodges wrote of the body cameras. “That cannot happen again.”
Damond’s death has largely been cloaked in mystery since the 40-year-old was fatally shot, with officials only gradually releasing some details. According to police records and Damond’s relatives, she had called 911 just before 11:30 p.m. Saturday to report what she thought was a possible rape occurring near her home.
Transcripts of her 911 calls, made public Wednesday, show that Damond called twice, first summoning officers to her home and then, several minutes later, making sure they had the address right because she could still hear the woman’s screams.
When two officers arrived, investigators said, they were driving near her home with their squad car lights off when a loud noise startled Officer Matthew Harrity, who was driving. Harrity, who spoke to investigators on Tuesday, said that immediately after the noise, Damond approached his open window and Officer Mohamed Noor, sitting in the passenger seat, fired one shot at her through the window.
An incident report released Wednesday showed that at 11:41 p.m., the officers reported a shooting incident and began performing CPR. Damond was pronounced dead 10 minutes later, according to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office, killed by a gunshot wound to her abdomen. Her death was ruled a homicide.
Investigators said there is no footage of the shooting because neither officer activated their body cameras until after the shooting, which may have violated police department policy. The policy states that officers must manually activate the devices before any use of force and, if that does not take place, the cameras must be “activated as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Adding to the uncertainty about what happened, investigators say, Noor has declined to be interviewed by investigators. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), the state agency investigating the shooting, said agents cannot compel an officer to speak to them.
In a statement earlier this week, the agency said Noor’s attorney “did not provide clarification on when, if ever, an interview would be possible.” Thomas C. Plunkett, the attorney, has not responded to multiple requests for comment about the BCA’s statement or whether the officer will ever consent to an interview.
Hodges and Janeé Harteau, the Minneapolis police chief, have echoed calls from the public and Damond’s relatives in saying they also want more information.
In a news conference Tuesday night, Hodges said that even with Harrity’s account, it remains “frustrating to have some of the picture but not all of it.” She said it remained unanswered why Noor pulled out his gun and fired as well as why neither officer turned on their body cameras.
After Noor joined the force, Hodges wrote a Facebook post last year that singled him out as “the newest Somali officer in the Minneapolis Police Department.” She wrote in the post that Noor was assigned to the 5th Precinct and that “his arrival has been highly celebrated, particularly by the Somali community.”
The Somali community in the region has said that since Noor has been publicly identified as the officer in the shooting, it is afraid of a backlash, with one activist saying that other Somali officers on the Minneapolis police force have been “nervous.”
Noor joined the Minneapolis police in 2015, while Harrity joined the department last year. Police records released Wednesday indicate that Noor has been the subject of three complaints, two of which remain open. The third was closed without discipline, and the records do not elaborate on the type of allegation for any of the complaints. Harrity is the subject of one open complaint, records show.
A Minneapolis police spokesman has declined to comment on whether the officers are being investigated for potentially violating departmental policy regarding body cameras.
Hodges said cameras should have been recording in this case. She pledged that police officials would work in the future to change policies “to ensure that the next time we want to see body-cam footage of a police encounter, we have it.” She also said her expectation is that body cameras will begin recording whenever an officer is responding to a call.
Damond’s death has reverberated in Australia, where hundreds gathered in Sydney to mourn Wednesday. A newspaper in the city called the shooting an “AMERICAN NIGHTMARE,” and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Australian officials were demanding information for her relatives.
“We are demanding answers on behalf of her family, and our hearts go out to her family and all of her friends and loved ones,” Turnbull said in a television interview this week. “It’s a truly tragic, tragic killing … something clearly went tragically wrong.”
Damond is one of 554 people fatally shot by police in the United States this year, according to a Washington Post database tracking such deaths.