Few people know why police killed Justine Ruszczyk — but not her family, her friends, nor even the mayor.
It’s been three days since the 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.
“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.”
Second officer is identified
Two officers responded to Ruszczyk’s report of a possible sexual assault in an alley near her home: Mohamed Noor and Matthew Harrity.
Both were identified by their attorneys, and both are on administrative leave.
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 led to 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.
“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 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.”
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’
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.”