MINNEAPOLIS — A Minnesota prosecutor who publicly criticized agents investigating the death of an Australian woman fatally shot by a police officer said Monday that he is sorry and was wrong to discuss the agency’s work in a public setting.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman issued both written and videotaped statements Monday apologizing to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is investigating the July shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond. He said he didn’t know he was being recorded when he spoke critically of investigators, but “nonetheless, my comments, under any circumstances, were ill advised and I am sorry.”
Last week, Freeman was at a union holiday reception when he was asked about a charging decision against Officer Mohamed Noor. Freeman expressed frustration, saying he doesn’t have enough evidence yet to charge the officer. He said it wasn’t his fault and investigators “haven’t done their job.” He also suggested Noor’s refusal to speak to investigators had put prosecutors in a difficult position.
“I have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, (that) the moment he shot the gun, he feared for his life. And he used force because he thought he was gonna be killed,” Freeman said last week. “But I can’t. He won’t answer my questions because he doesn’t have to, OK?”
While he apologized in his statement Monday for speaking publicly about the case, Freeman did not say whether he stood by the comment that investigators were not doing their jobs or whether it was inaccurate.
He also said that investigators have been working nonstop to gather evidence and follow every lead to resolve the case, but police cases are complex and demand the most thorough investigations possible.
“While some clamor for swift justice, only careful, detailed work and careful analysis brings us real justice,” he said Monday. “That is what this case deserves and that is what it will get.”
Freeman said Monday that he believes it’s his responsibility to talk to constituents who ask him what he is doing, so he did so when he was approached. But he admits it was wrong to discuss the investigators’ work. In addition to the public apology, he said he also personally apologized to the Department of Public Safety commissioner.
The BCA had no comment Monday, but has said that it’s been working with Freeman’s office from the beginning and will continue to do so. The BCA said it investigates the majority of officer-involved shootings in Minnesota “because of our thorough and professional approach to ensuring the integrity of an investigation.”
According to authorities, Noor shot Damond in the alley behind her home in July after she had called 911 to report a possible sexual assault. As she approached the squad car, Noor fired from the passenger seat, across his partner and through the driver’s window.
Damond’s death sparked protests and led to a police department shake-up, including the resignation of Police Chief Janee Harteau.
Freeman had said previously that he wanted to have a charging decision by the end of the year. He said Monday that he’ll share information about the status of that decision next week.
Attorneys for Damond’s family and for the officer have expressed concern about Freeman’s comments, but for different reasons.
Bob Bennett, the attorney for Damond’s family, said Freeman’s apology was carefully crafted, “but most notably he did not say that any criticism or complaint he leveled at BCA was, in any way, inaccurate or unfounded.” Bennett has said that BCA investigations favor officers’ version of events.
He said Monday that if Freeman’s criticism is true, then “the BCA should be the party apologizing.”
Noor’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said he was aware of Freeman’s apology and is “just trying to do everything I can to make sure that Officer Noor is treated fairly in this process.” Last week, Plunkett said investigators gather evidence, they don’t create it. He said he’d be concerned about any supplemental investigation overseen and influenced by Freeman’s office.