Answers months away in case of Australian woman killed by police?


It’s been three days since the Australian-born Minnesota woman was killed after calling 911 to report a possible assault. And it may be several more months before the state’s Department of Public Safety reveals exactly what happened.

That’s because the department’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is expected to take two to four months to investigate, said Chuck Laszewski, spokesman for the Hennepin County attorney’s office.

Once that happens, county attorney Mike Freeman — not a grand jury — will decide whether either of the two officers involved should be charged in Ruszczyk’s death.

Meanwhile, frustration over the lack of information grows.

Justine Ruszczyk and fiancé Don Damond were set to marry next month.

“Her family and I have been provided with almost no additional information from law enforcement regarding what happened after police arrived,” said Ruszczyk’s fiancé, Don Damond. “We are desperate for information.”

Mayor Betsy Hodges said she, too, is in the dark.

“I don’t know more than other people do,” Hodges told CNN on Tuesday. “I ask that they (state investigators) give us as much information as they can as quickly as possible.”

What we know about the shooting

According to officials, two officers responded to Ruszczyk’s report of a possible sexual assault in an alley near her home: Mohamed Noor and Matthew Harrity. So far, Harrity has spoken to investigators; Noor has not. Both are on administrative leave.

Minneapolis police Officer Mohamed Noor

According to a preliminary Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigation, Harrity was driving and Noor was in the passenger seat as they drove through the alley looking for a suspect. The squad lights on their vehicle were off.

Harrity told investigators that as they drove down the alley, he was startled by a loud sound near the squad car. Immediately afterward, Ruszczyk approached the driver’s side window and Noor fired his weapon, striking Ruszczyk through the driver’s side window, Harrity told the BCA.

The officers exited the vehicle and provided medical attention until medical staff arrived. Ruszczyk was pronounced dead at the scene.

Officer extends condolences

Both officers were previously identified by their attorneys. BCA said it is unclear if and when Noor will speak to investigators. Under state law, the agency cannot compel an officer to speak to them.

Noor offered his condolences to Ruszczyk’s family, in a statement from his attorney.

“He takes these events very seriously because, for him, being a police officer is a calling,” attorney Tom Plunkett said in the statement. “He joined the police force to serve the community and to protect the people he serves. Officer Noor is a caring person with a family he loves and he empathizes with the loss others are experiencing.”

Plunkett said he and his client “would like to say more, and will in the future … however, there are several investigations ongoing and Officer Noor wants to respect the privacy to the family and asks the same in return during this difficult period.”

Harrity was the other officer who responded, said Harrity’s attorney, Frederic Bruno.

But exactly what caused the shooting remains a mystery.

Body cameras turned off

Minneapolis police policy says body cameras should be turned on prior to use of force “as soon as it is safe to do so” and during “any contact involving criminal activity.”

Both officers had their body cameras turned off, the mayor said. According to the BCA, the officers turned their cameras on after the shooting.

“We don’t have those answers,” Hodges said. “I have the same questions everyone else does. Why weren’t the body cameras on? What happened in the shooting? Those are burning questions we all want the answers to.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota accused the officers of thwarting “the public’s right to know” about what happened to Ruszczyk by failing to turn on their body cameras.

“These two officers should face penalties for breaking policy 4-223 and making the truth so much harder to find,” Interim Executive Director Teresa Nelson said. “Consequences should be added to the policy to ensure better compliance and accountability.”

While state investigators are now handling the case, police Chief Janeé Harteau said her department has requested an expedited external, independent investigation to ensure transparency.

Grief in two countries

Ruszczyk, 40. was originally from Australia but moved to the United States in 2014. She was living with Damond, her fiancé, at the time of her death. They were planning to marry in August.

“It is difficult to fathom how to go forward without her in my life,” Damond said Monday. “Our hearts are broken and we are utterly devastated by the loss of Justine.”

Don Damond, middle, mourns the loss of his fiancee, Justine Ruszczyk.

Halfway around the world, Ruszczyk’s father made an emotional plea for justice.

“Justine, our daughter was so special to us and to so many others,” John Ruszczyk told journalists in Australia. “Justine was a beacon to all of us. We only ask that the light of justice shine down on the circumstances of her death.”

Ruszczyk has dual citizenship in the United States and Australia because her father holds US citizenship, a source who knew her said. The country’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it is providing consular assistance to the woman’s family.

“The death of Justine is a loss to everyone who knew her. She touched so many people with her loving and generous heart,” Damond said. “Our lives are forever changed as a result of knowing her. She was so kind, and so darn funny. She made us all laugh with her great wit and her humor.”

‘She was a healer’

Woman killed by Minneapolis police was 'kind, funny'

According to her website, Ruszczyk trained as a veterinarian and later became a yoga instructor and life coach. She worked at the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community in Minneapolis.

Nancy Coune, an administrator with the community, described Ruszczyk as a “gifted speaker” who imparted a message “of love and peace and non-violence.”

“Justine was dedicated to helping others make transformations in their lives, through teaching and coaching,” Coune said. “She was an amazing leader for bridging the gap between science and spirituality in a way that was easy to understand and fun.”

Brad Parks reported from Minneapolis; Emanuella Grinberg, Holly Yan and Carma Hassan reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Dakin Andone, Stella Ko, Brad Parks, Jessica Suerth and Ryan Young contributed to this report.

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