Minneapolis Police Chief: 'Justine did not have to die'

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Making her first statement since the fatal officer-involved shooting of an Australian national in south Minneapolis, Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau told the public Thursday afternoon that Justine Damond did not have to die.

"On our squad cars you will find the words, 'To protect with courage and serve with compassion,'" Harteau said as the press conference opened. "This did not happen."

She was out of town when the shooting occurred, not returning for more than four days while "backpacking in the mountains." Her remote location, she said, made it difficult to return--though city officials maintain nothing that needed to happen was impacted by her absence.

"There is seldom a good time to be away," Harteau said. "It was a nightmare not to be here."

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is leading an investigation into the incident, causing much confusion in the shooting's aftermath with a statement claiming that neither Officer Mohamed Noor, who fired the shot that killed Damond, nor his partner Matthew Harrity, had their body cameras activated. The dashboard camera on the pair's squad car also failed to capture any footage of the incident, leaving it unclear whether any video of the incident exists at all.

Based on her knowledge of department policy and with the information publicly available, Harteau said the officer's body cameras should have been activated, joining a growing chorus of city officials and activists who have espoused similar sentiments. 

"We are making changes to strengthen the existing [body camera] policy," she said. "We want to do everything we can to eliminate human error."

The MPD is currently looking into technology that activates body cameras when service weapons are unholstered or squad car lights are activated, though Harteau said the first priority is still to make turning on the cameras second nature--something that hasn't happened in the eight months since the devices became standard issue. 

Harteau was untroubled by the fact both officers had just over a year of experience each, saying that in an ideal world one officer would have more experience but that all officers are trained to perform their duties without supervision or assistance. 

When asked about Noor's training record, she said he "absolutely" performed well, never needing an extension to his training program or giving any indication that he was unfit for duty.

Noor declined to interview with the BCA--which is every American citizen's right under the Fifth Amendment--though first Mayor Betsy Hodges and now Harteau have said they wish he would tell his side of the story to investigators. 

Without that information, BCA agents only have Harrity's account of the story. No answers have been released as to why it took the pair more than 10 minutes to arrive on scene after receiving the original call from dispatchers, though Harteau insists that information is a part of the ongoing investigation. 

She concluded by saying that in light of the events of the past year, communication between police and the community is more important than ever--and that no one should ever feel afraid to call police.

Her statements Thursday were an addition to a previously released written statement, found below:

I want to acknowledge the pain and frustration that family and community members have following the fatal officer involved shooting on Saturday night. This is clearly a tragic death.

I also want to assure you that I understand why so many people have so many questions at this point. I have many of the same questions and it is why we immediately asked for an external and independent investigation into the officer-involved shooting death. I've asked for the investigation to be expedited to provide transparency and to answer as many questions as quickly as we can.

911 transcript released

Wednesday. the Minneapolis Police Department released the 911 transcript of the call Justine Damond placed on the night of July 15, just minutes before she was shot and killed by the officers who responded to the call. Damond called 911 twice that night to report a possible sexual assault near 51st Street and Washburn Avenue South. READ TRANSCRIPT

Update on investigation
Read our recap: 
Latest on Minneapolis police shooting of Justine Damond

The investigation into the shooting of Justine Damond is being conducted by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. According to the BCA, Officer Matthew Harrity and Officer Mohamed Noor were responding to a call of an assault on Saturday night near West 51st Street and Washburn Avenue.

BCA agents interviewed Harrity on Tuesday. Noor declined to be interviewed, which is his right. His attorney did not elaborate when an interview would happen.

According to the preliminary investigation, Harrity and Noor were in the squad car. Harrity was in the driver's seat and Noor was in the front passenger seat. The officers drove south on the alley between Washburn and Xerxes, heading toward West 51st Street. The lights on the squad car were not on.

When they got to the end of the alley, Harrity was startled by a loud noise near the car. Right after, Justine Damond went to the driver's side window of the squad. Harrity told BCA agents that's when Noor fired his gun, shooting her through the open driver's side window.

The officers immediately gave her medical aid, but Damond succumbed to her injuries and died at the scene. Investigators found a cell phone near Damond. No weapons were found at the scene.

No body camera footage

The officers did not turn on their body cameras until after the shooting and the squad camera was not on.

BCA looking to speak with bicyclist

BCA agents are also looking for a young, white man who was riding his bike on West 51st just before the shooting happened. Harrity told investigators the man stopped riding and saw the officers tending to Damond after she was shot. The man is described as a white 18 to 25-year-old man. Anyone who saw the shooting happen is urged to call the BCA at (651)793-7000.

Next steps

The case is still under investigation by the BCA. When the findings of the investigation are complete, the agency will present its findings to the county attorney.