‘Ignorance can not prevail’: Father’s anger at US prosecutor over shooting

The devastated father of n woman Justine Damond, who was shot dead by a police officer in the United States, has questioned the integrity and completeness of the probe into his daughter’s death after the case’s chief prosecutor was shown on camera to be highly critical of investigators.
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Ms Damond died after being shot in her pyjamas by officer Mohamed Noor on July 15 after she called police several times to report a possible sexual assault in an alley behind her Minneapolis home she had shared with her fiance.

The 40-year-old was shot as she approached a police squad car carrying Noor and his partner.

Ms Damond’s death drew widespread condemnation and led to the forced resignation of the city’s police chief.

Speaking in Sydney on Thursday, Ms Damond’s father John Ruszczyk was visibly shaking as he aired his family’s concerns that the investigation “has not been done to the prosecutor’s satisfaction or even to the expected levels of accuracy and thoroughness”.

The criticism followed comments from Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, the prosecutor who is to decide the charges, who was filmed telling a group of activists earlier this month that he did not yet have enough evidence to decide whether to charge Noor.

“I have got to have the evidence. And I don’t have it yet. And let me just say, it’s not my fault,” Mr Freeman said to the activists as he was recorded in a video later posted on social media.

“So if it isn’t my fault, who didn’t do their jobs. Investigators, and they don’t work for me. And they haven’t done their jobs.”

Although the prosecutor did not name the agency, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) is in charge of the investigation.

Mr Freeman, who had previously said he had hoped to make a decision on the charges before the end of the year, said Noor’s decision not to speak to investigators had made the job harder.

“I have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt [that] the moment he shot the gun, he feared for his life. And he used force because he thought he was gonna be killed,” Mr Freeman told the activists.

“But I can’t. He won’t answer my questions because he doesn’t have to, OK. We all have Fifth Amendment rights, and I respect that.

“So I can’t talk to her because she’s gone, and the other cop just gave us some [expletive], OK. So guess what. I gotta figure out angles of the shot, gun residues, reckless use of force experts.”

Mr Freeman has since apologised to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for the comments.

Reading from a written statement on Thursday, Mr Ruszczyk said the prosecutor’s comments were deeply troubling.

“[Mr Freeman] does not say that his comments about the BCA investigation itself were unfounded, inaccurate or in any way untrue.

“What are we to think.

“We are deeply concerned about the possibility that the initial investigation was not done properly and with the greatest integrity or a sense of completeness.

“We are apprehensive that, perhaps, the BCA has not fulfilled its promise. At the least, Mr. Freeman’s comments cast doubt on the description of how Justine’s death occurred as it was initially put out by the BCA and the attorney for the officer driving the squad car.”

Mr Ruszczyk later added: “Ignorance can not prevail here. We implore Mr Freeman and the prosecutor’s office to continue to pursue a rigorous investigation and examination of evidence of the events leading up to Justine’s death.

“We expect them to fill in any gaps in the BCA’s work honestly and fairly, but completely.

“We will wait patiently while this occurs, but insist that this investigation be done, and done right.

“As heartbroken as our family and Don Damond are with our deeply personal loss, we acknowledge the concerns and fears of Justine’s Minneapolis community and fellow citizens of the city and nation about events such as this.

“While I understand that many different groups with potentially different agendas and views speak out often on this using Justine’s name, I want to state that only her family here in , and Don Damond in Minneapolis, speak for Justine and her family in seeking justice for my daughter Justine.”

Mr Ruszczyk, who was supported as he spoke by his wife Maryan Heffernan, son Jason and daughter-in-law Katarina, said the family had met with BCA investigators in the days after his daughter’s death.

He said the investigators assured the family they would do all they could.

“They also promised a complete and rigorous investigation of Justine’s shooting,” Mr Ruszczyk said.

“They assured us that they would give the county attorney all the necessary information to make a reasoned decision on whether or not to charge Justine’s shooter with a crime.

“They looked me in the eye and said they were committed to getting to the truth of the event.

“We were grateful for their promise, so that we could better understand why and how such a tragic event could occur, and so that our family could do something, anything, to prevent others from experiencing our pain in the future.”