Lawyer Rejects Ambush Fear Defense in MN Police Shooting

Attorney for partner of officer who killed Australian Justine Damond said it was reasonable for the police to have feared an ambush. Damond’s family lawyer, Robert Bennett, calls that statement “ludicrous.”

Robert Bennett, a lawyer representing the family of Justine Damond, the Australian who was shot dead by police in Minneapolis, has rejected claims the officer who fired the shots may have thought he was being ambushed, the Guardian reports. Bennett said Damond was in her pajamas at the time and clearly did not present a threat. “She obviously wasn’t armed, was not a threat to anyone, and nor could she have reasonably perceived to be,” he said. He criticized the comment by the attorney for officer Matthew Harrity, whose partner, Mohamed Noor, shot Damond, that it was reasonable for officers to believe they might be targets of an ambush. “I think that’s ludicrous,” Bennett said. “It’s disinformation … it doesn’t have any basis in fact.”

Harrity told investigators he heard a loud sound before officer Noor shot Damond.  arrity’s attorney, Fred Bruno, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune “it’s certainly reasonable” to assume any officer would be concerned about an ambush. He cited the recent death of a New York City officer killed in her squad car. “It was only a few weeks ago when a female NYPD cop and mother of twins was executed in her car in a very similar scenario,” Bruno said. Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has spoken out again about Damond’s shooting, saying the entire incident was “completely inexplicable.” Four days after the fatal shooting, Noor has yet to talk with investigators and his lawyer has given no indication he ever will.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Loud Noise Before Minneapolis Police Shooting Death

Partner of officer Mohamed Noor, who shot Justine Damond to death last weekend, reports he was “startled by a loud sound” just before the shooting. Noor declined to be interviewed by investigators.

The partner of the Minneapolis police officer who fatally shot Justine Damond last Saturday night told investigators that he heard a loud noise near their vehicle before the shooting, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. Officer Matthew Harrity, who was driving at the time of the shooting, told the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) yesterday that as he and officer Mohamed Noor were driving down the alley in search of a suspect Harrity was “startled by a loud sound” near their vehicle.

“Immediately afterward (Damond) approached the driver’s side window of the squad,” the bureau said. “Harrity indicated that … Noor discharged his weapon, striking (Damond) through the open driver’s side window.” Noor declined to be interviewed by investigators. Both the officers’ body-worn cameras and their vehicle camera were off during the shooting. The Minneapolis Police Department’s internal affairs unit is investigating whether the officers should have had their cameras on.  Assistant Minneapolis Police Chief Mederia Arradondo said the department was in the process of rolling out its body camera program and continues to update its policies on the technology. Noor has been with the department for 21 months, while Harrity has been with the department for 12. Both officers are on standard administrative leave.

from https://thecrimereport.org

No U.S. Charges in NM Police Shooting of Homeless Man

The Justice Department says there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that two Albuquerque police officers violated federal law when they fatally shot mentally ill, homeless James Boyd in 2014. The officers were charged with murder in state court but the case ended in a mistrial.

Prosecutors said yesterday that no federal charges will be brought against the two Albuquerque police officers who fatally shot a mentally ill, homeless man more than three years ago, the Albuquerque Journal reports. The U.S. Attorney’s office said career prosecutors determined there wasn’t enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that officer Dominique Perez and now-retired Detective Keith Sandy violated federal law when they fatally shot James Boyd in 2014. The two men were charged with murder in state court but the case ended in a mistrial last October. Shannon Kennedy, an attorney for the Boyd family, said U.S. Justice Department lawyers “gave a very astute legal analysis … of the difficulty of a federal criminal prosecution of law enforcement officers.”

To prove charges against an officer for an on-duty shooting, prosecutors must be able to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that an officer “willfully” deprived an individual of a constitutional right. That high burden means there must be proof an officer knew his or her actions were unlawful, but did them anyway. “The evidence, when viewed as whole, indicates that the officers fired only after reasonably perceiving that Boyd posed a serious threat of physical harm to a fellow officer,” said the U.S. Attorney’s office. “At the time of the shooting, Boyd was brandishing two knives and was in close proximity to a canine handler.” The city of Albuquerque settled a lawsuit brought by Boyd’s family for $5 million.

from https://thecrimereport.org

No Third Trial for Cincinnati Ex-Officer in Shooting Death

Two years ago today, University of Cincinnati police officer shot motorist Sam DuBose to death. After two mistrials, prosecutor Joe Deters says jurors convinced him “that we cannot win a trial in this case, with these facts.”

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters in Cincinnati said discussions with “multiple jurors” after two mistrials in the case against former University of Cincinnati officer Ray Tensing led him to not pursue a third trial in the shooting of Sam DuBose, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. “They have, to a person, said…that we will never get a conviction,” Deters said yesterday. Deters said he will dismiss the murder and voluntary manslaughter charges that Tensing has faced for nearly two years. Tensing’s attorney, Stew Mathews, said Deters did the right thing. Two mistrials have been declared after the juries could not agree on verdicts.

After the second trial ended last month with a deadlocked jury, Mathews said, “I was assured by those jurors that there would never be a unanimous decision in this case.” Tensing fatally shot DuBose on July 19, 2015 as he tried to drive away from an off-campus traffic stop. “In this case, we had jurors who would not vote to convict a police officer,” he said. “Now, after two trials and probably a million dollars… I have come to the conclusion that we cannot win a trial in this case, with these facts.” The case involved the killing of an unarmed African-American man by a white officer who said he feared for his life because he would be dragged under DuBose’s car. Tensing’s body camera showed much of what happened, but experts who testified on Tensing’s behalf said it gave an incomplete picture. A federal investigation of the case still is pending.

from https://thecrimereport.org

TX Officer Indictment Shows Rarity of Charges Against Police

It has been more than 40 years since a police officer was convicted of murder in Texas. Of 656 shootings in Texas’ largest cities between 2010 and 2015, only seven officers were indicted and none was convicted, the Texas Tribune reports.

When a Dallas County grand jury indicted a former Balch Springs police officer on a murder charge this week in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager, it took what is an exceedingly rare legal step in Texas, reports the Texas Tribune. Though news of police shootings has become commonplace throughout the nation, disciplinary action against an officer isn’t typical and a murder indictment is almost unheard of. It takes overwhelming evidence for investigators and prosecutors to challenge an officer’s decision to fire his or her weapon, even in controversial incidents. In the rare instances they do, it is often for a lesser charge, like manslaughter or aggravated assault.

A Texas Tribune investigation of 656 police shootings in Texas’ largest cities between 2010 and 2015 found only 25 officers who were disciplined by their department after a shooting, with ten of them being fired. Only seven cops were indicted on a criminal charge, none of which were for murder, and none of which have led to a conviction. Yet on Monday, a little more than two months after Roy Oliver shot and killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards while he sat in the passenger seat of a car, Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson said a grand jury had indicted Oliver. Lee Merritt, a lawyer for the Edwards family, was “cautious” after the indictment, saying it has been more than 40 years since a police officer was convicted of murder in Texas. Charley Wilkison of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas said the fast firing and indictment of Oliver had a “tinge of politics” to it and that a rushed investigation can lead to two tragedies instead of one. “The district attorney is looking for a victory here — that’s what’s going on,” he said. “District attorneys, they’re supposed to seek justice; they’re not supposed to enter an investigation with an outcome in mind … That’s not justice.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Minneapolis Woman Was Shot in Abdomen

No explanation has yet been offered for the death of Justine Damond, a 40-year-old Australian woman who called 911 to report a possible crime only to be killed by a responding Minneapolis police officer. The Sydney Morning Herald called the case an “American Nightmare.”

The death of Justine Damond, who called 911 to report a possible crime only to be killed by a responding Minneapolis police officer, has left her grieving family, neighborhood and nation demanding answers in the latest police-involved shooting to thrust Minnesota into the international spotlight, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. Damond called to report a possible assault in the alley behind her house in one of the city’s safest neighborhoods and was unarmed when officer Mohamed Noor shot her. Amid a public outpouring of grief and outrage, Police Chief Janeé Harteau called on the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to perform a speedy investigation.

The Hennepin County medical examiner said that Damond, also known as Justine Ruszczyk, died from a gunshot wound to the abdomen. Noor’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said Noor “takes these events very seriously.” No weapon was found at the scene, creating even more mystery about how Damond’s call to police ended in one of the responding officers fatally shooting her. The Damond shooting is front-page news across her native Australia, and correspondents from major news outlets in the country flew to Minneapolis to cover it. The Sydney Morning Herald’s headline yesterday was “American Nightmare.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Minneapolis Police Kill Australian Woman in Alley

Justine Damond, 40, was fatally shot after she called 911 to report a possible assault in the alley behind her home. Mayor asks why officers body cameras were not turned on.

A 40-year-old Australian woman who family members said called 911 to report a possible assault in the alley behind her home Saturday night was fatally shot by a Minneapolis police officer, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. Sources said two officers in one squad car, responding to the 911 call, pulled into the alley. Justine Damond, in her pajamas, went to the driver’s side door and was talking to the driver. The officer in the passenger seat pulled his gun and shot Damond through the driver’s side door. No weapon was found at the scene.

The shooting was called “tragic” by Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges. “I am heartsick and deeply disturbed by the fatal officer-involved shooting,” said Hodges, who represented the area for eight years as a City Council member. “I have questions about why the [police officers’] bodycams weren’t on,” she said. “Basically, my mom’s dead because a police officer shot her for reasons I don’t know,” said Zach Damond, 22. “I demand answers. If anybody can help, just call police and demand answers. I’m so done with all this violence.” Damond said Justine called police after she “heard a sound in the alley.” There are three lights mounted on telephone poles in the alley plus nine motion-detector lights on garages. Neighbors said the alley is well-lit at night.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Payouts Mount for L.A. County Sheriff’s Shootings

Los Angeles County agrees to pay nearly two million to the families of men shot in two separate incidents. Last fiscal year, payouts to resolve legal claims tied to law enforcement actions cost the county nearly $51 million, a 65 percent jump from the previous year.

Los Angeles County agrees to pay nearly two million to the families of men shot in two separate incidents. Last fiscal year, payouts to resolve legal claims tied to law enforcement actions cost the county nearly $51 million, a 65 percent jump from the previous year . . .

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MN Shooting Issue: Has Justice System Improved for Blacks?

A year after Philando Castile was killed, Chiraag Bains of Harvard’s Criminal Justice Policy Program says, “I worry that this case will corrode people’s faith in the criminal justice system,. You can do everything right and still get shot.”

One year ago today, the world was introduced to a dying Philando Castile, an officer’s gun trained on him, as his girlfriend livestreamed the shooting’s aftermath on Facebook. In the ensuing year, he became known as not just the latest black man shot and killed by police, but a beloved nutrition services supervisor who doted on schoolchildren, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. Protesters took to the streets before and after Jeronimo Yanez, the St. Anthony, Mn., police officer who shot Castile, was charged and later found not guilty.

To Castile’s friend, John Thompson, Yanez’s acquittal shattered hopes that Minnesota would buck the national trend in police prosecutions. The anniversary delivered little if any satisfaction that the criminal justice system had improved for black citizens, particularly black men. “It’s going to be a long time for me to pull myself together,” said Thompson. A jury deliberated for a week before acquitting Yanez. Two jurors later said their debate hinged on the definition of reckless negligence and on whether Yanez feared for his life. “I worry that this case will corrode people’s faith in the criminal justice system,” said Chiraag Bains of Harvard’s Criminal Justice Policy Program. “You can do everything right and still get shot.” That fear is shared by police, said Andy Skoogman of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association. “I think law enforcement in general is looking for ways to do a better job of connecting with communities of color,” he said.

from https://thecrimereport.org

A Year After LA Police Shooting, Little Has Changed in Area

Residents and business owners hoped a national spotlight could erode racial divisions and improve police relations after Alton Sterling’s fatal shooting by police in Baton Rouge.

One year ago, Abdullah Muflahi rushed outside his convenience store in Baton Rouge and began taping before a white police officer shot and killed a black man in the parking lot. Muflahi’s video fueled protests that turned his friend, 37-year-old Alton Sterling, into another symbol of outrage over deadly police shootings, the Associated Press reports. The July 5 shooting made Muflahi’s store a hub for protesters. Visitors at the Triple S Food Mart photograph a mural of Sterling’s smiling face on its aluminum siding. A makeshift memorial stands on the table where Sterling once sold homemade CDs. Little has changed in the poverty-stricken neighborhood, a frustrating fact of life for residents and business owners who hoped a national spotlight could erode racial divisions and improve police relations in Louisiana’s capital.

“It’s overlooked. It’s not much that the city does around here,” Muflahi said. “There are things that the city could fix and help make it better, but nobody looks at it like that.” Muflahi, a 29-year-old native of Yemen, mourns Sterling as the friend who welcomed him after he moved from Detroit and bought his store in 2010. Last year, officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake approached Sterling about a call that a black man selling CDs had threatened someone with a gun. Salamoni shot Sterling three times after Sterling reached for a gun in his pocket, and fired three more shots into Sterling’s back when he began to sit up. A loaded revolver was recovered from Sterling’s pocket. The Justice Department declined to charge either officer. Louisiana’s attorney general is reviewing whether state charges are warranted.  State Rep. Ted James sees some progress in the area. He also sees enduring racial divisions and acknowledges that predominantly black north Baton Rouge suffers from a longstanding “lack of investment.”

from https://thecrimereport.org