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Freeman: Not enough evidence yet to charge Mpls. cop in Ruszczyk shooting

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A photograph of Justine Ruszczyk surrounded with colored roses
A photograph of Justine Ruszczyk surrounded with colored roses and other arrangements sits on a stage at Lake Harriet for her memorial.
Maria Cardona | MPR News file

Updated 3 p.m. | Posted 12:40 p.m.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman told a group of union members Wednesday that he does not have enough evidence to decide yet whether he'll file charges against Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, and he blamed "investigators" for not doing their jobs.

Noor fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk from the passenger seat of his squad car through the driver's side window after he and his partner, officer Matthew Harrity, responded to a 911 call on July 15. 

Hennepin County attorney Mike Freeman
Hennepin County attorney Mike Freeman
Matt Sepic | MPR News file

Ruszczyk, known professionally as Justine Damond, had called police to report that she thought she'd heard a woman yell for help outside her home in Minneapolis' Fulton neighborhood, telling the 911 operator she was worried someone was being attacked.

Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar posted the prosecutor's conversation with a group of union members during the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation holiday reception Wednesday night on the activist group's Facebook page. 

Freeman's remarks came after one of the activists asked him why he hadn't yet announced charges in the case against Noor.

"I've got to have the evidence and I don't have it yet. And let me just say, it's not my fault," Freeman said in the video. "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 job."

Freeman did not say specifically which investigators he was talking about or the agency they worked for.

State investigators from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension took over the case following the shooting. On Sept. 12, the BCA said it had completed its investigation into the shooting and turned it over to Freeman to consider whether to charge Noor with a crime.

Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor
Mohamed Noor
City of Minneapolis

Freeman has said that he expected to review the evidence and make a decision by the end of the year on whether to charge Noor in the shooting.

In the video, Freeman tells union members: "I'm not going to make it worse by just doing a knee-jerk charge and say let the jury decide. No, no. I have to know what happened before I can charge. And that's when I'm doing my job. And thanks for having some patience. 

"Trust me. Nobody wants it done for Christmas more than me. That's ... that's the big present I'd like to see under the Christmas tree. So thanks for listening."

Noor's lawyer, Thomas C. Plunkett, said Freeman's "under the Christmas tree" reference concerned him.

"No lawyer wants their client placed under a Christmas tree as a present to a vocal segment of the community. That said, this case is about an officer that followed procedure and training," Plunkett said. "This lead to the death of a very fine person which is a horrible tragedy, but not a crime."

In response to Freeman's criticism of investigators, Plunkett said the job of investigators is to gather evidence and not create it.

"I'm concerned by any supplemental investigation, especially if it is directly overseen and influenced by the county attorney," he said. 

Until now, Freeman hadn't spoken publicly about the status of the investigation. A spokesperson for the Hennepin County Attorney's Office said they are aware of the video and did not dispute what the prosecutor said, but declined to say more about it. 

"We are working diligently on the case to complete the investigation as soon as possible," Freeman's office said in a statement. "Beyond that, we cannot comment at this time."

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said in a statement that it continues to work with Freeman's office on "this ongoing investigation" and that the entire agency file will be available "once the case is closed."

Ruszczyk's shooting death  sent shock waves through the police force and the city that were felt across the country and the world. It led to the ouster of Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau.

In the conversation on the video, Freeman explained to the union members "I have to prove beyond reasonable doubt the moment he shot the gun, he feared for his life. And he used force because he thought he was gonna be killed. 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."

Noor has declined to speak with investigators. Freeman added that Harrity, Noor's partner who was driving the squad car at the time of the shooting, didn't provide enough information to bring charges.  

Freeman explained that he must analyze the shooting extensively with physical evidence, along with use of force expert analysis of the incident, before coming to a decision to charge Noor.

According to the Minneapolis Police Department, Noor remains on paid administrative leave.

Ruszczyk had called police late on a Saturday night to report that she thought she'd heard a female yell help outside her home in the city's Fulton neighborhood, telling the 911 operator she was worried a woman was being attacked.

"If you look at this, here's a nice lady who hears something bad outside, she calls the cops, they don't come, she calls again, they drive by in her alley, they don't stop to talk with her, and she comes out in her jammies, and she's killed by a cop. Sounds easy doesn't it? But, it's not just," Freeman said on the video Wednesday, adding, "Can I prove the cop shot her? I could've done that the first day. That's not how it works."

Activists expressed concern that Freeman wouldn't come to a decision by the end of the year, but pressed him to take the case to trial regardless.

Sam Sanchez, a union member and an organizer with the group Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar, recorded the conversation. He said he was surprised by Freeman's honesty and noted it was disheartening to hear Freeman hasn't come to a decision yet because of lack of evidence.

"Mike Freeman can charge Noor if he wanted to," he said. "Any prosecutor that's what they do, they build their case. How do you build your case? Yes you have to have some evidence, but that has never stopped anybody before from prosecuting. They will also build their case through their witnesses that they call to testify."

Minneapolis attorney Bob Bennett, who represents Ruszczyk's family in Australia, said he was concerned, but not surprised, by Freeman's comments about the BCA investigation. 

"I hope that the BCA hasn't so irretrievably damaged the evidence, or failed to recover evidence that should be reasonably expected to be recovered at the time that the crime occurred," Bennett said. "And I use the term crime pointedly and intentionally."

Bennett also represented the family of Dawn Pfister, who was shot and killed by a Chaska police officer in 2014. The city settled that case for $1.75 million earlier this year, although a grand jury declined criminal charges. 

Bennett said BCA investigators in that case didn't challenge officers' stories or use all the evidence available to them. 

"There needs to be a housecleaning," Bennett said. "There's no reason that the BCA couldn't do [investigations of police], but they have to want to do it, and they have to be made to do it by supervising personnel." 

MPR News reporter Jon Collins contributed to this report.

Listen to Freeman's comments on the Noor case

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