137 Days Later, Responding Officers Still to be Interviewed in Damond Killing
TOM LYDEN - FOX 9
MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) – Nearly five months after a Minneapolis police officer shot and killed Justine Damond, investigators have yet to interview the officers who responded to the scene in the immediate aftermath, the Fox 9 Investigators have learned.
The investigation into the officer-involved shooting was conducted by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). In September, the case was submitted to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office for possible criminal charges against the Minneapolis police officer who fired the fatal shot, Mohamed Noor. Noor has steadfastly refused to be interviewed by investigators.
According to multiple sources, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office is now asking its own investigators, five sworn Hennepin County Sheriff’s detectives, to join BCA investigators in seeking voluntary interviews with the Minneapolis police officers who responded to the scene.
After the shooting, the responding Minneapolis police officers submitted detailed written reports, and some had activated their body cameras at the scene, but they were not interviewed by BCA agents. A spokesperson for the BCA would not explain why the officers were not interviewed, because it is an active criminal investigation.
Noor’s partner, Officer Mathew Harrity, has been interviewed by investigators. Damond was standing outside the squad car next to Harrity, who was in the driver’s seat, when Noor fired his weapon from the passenger side of the vehicle.
It is not unusual for prosecutors to seek additional investigation. In the police killings of both Jamar Clark and Philando Castile, prosecutors asked the BCA for additional information.
But in this case, Hennepin County prosecutors want their own detectives present during the interviews and participants in the follow-up investigation.
The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office declined to comment for this story, but a spokesperson said they still anticipate a charging decision by the end of the year.
A spokesperson for the BCA said the deputies are assisting with interviews the BCA is conducting.
It has been 137 days since Noor shot and killed Justine Damond in the alley behind her South Minneapolis home. It took 136 days for Hennepin County to decide the evidence didn’t support criminal charges in the Jamar Clark case. Ramsey County took 133 days before charging Jeronimo Yanez with second degree manslaughter in the killing of Philando Castile.
THE GRAND JURY TOOL
Sources tell Fox 9 Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman is discovering he may have prematurely given up an important tool for prosecutors in such cases: The Grand Jury, in which a panel of 20 citizens evaluates evidence presented by prosecutors to determine if there is probable cause for criminal charges.
It was while considering charges in the Jamar Clark killing 18 months ago that Freeman said he would no longer take officer-involved shootings to a Grand Jury because it seldom returned indictments. The move was heralded by critics of police conduct.
But for all its flaws, a Grand Jury process allows prosecutors to subpoena witnesses, including police officers, and compel testimony under oath.
If the officers who witnessed the Damond killing decline a voluntary interview, it is still possible for Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo to compel them to give statements under a civil process known as Garrity, that protects public employees from self-incrimination.