MINNEAPOLIS - Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman will convene a grand jury in the case of an Australian woman fatally shot by a Minneapolis police officer last July, according to the victim's family attorney.
Less than a month ago, Freeman delayed a charging decision that he had initially said would come by the end of 2017.
The Hennepin County Attorney's Office has not confirmed the existence of a grand jury. Instead, they released the following statement Wednesday:
"It has been reported that several witnesses have been subpoenaed before a grand jury as part of the investigation into the officer-involved shooting of Justine Damond Ruszczyk. Because grand jury proceedings are secret, we cannot comment on grand jury subpoenas or any testimony that occurs before a grand jury.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman will continue the office’s two-year-old policy where he makes the decision on whether or not to bring charges in officer-involved shootings.
We will have no further comment."
The Damond family attorney, Bob Bennett, told KARE 11 on Wednesday that the family is pleased that a grand jury is being convened. He said they are happy that this unique investigative tool is being used to compel witnesses to testify under oath.
On Wednesday, Noor's attorney, Tom Plunkett, said "Noor continues to personally acknowledge the grief of the Damond and Ruszczyk families for their tragic loss."
When Freeman announced at the end of December that he was not yet ready to make a decision about charging, he said there was "more information and evidence" that needed to be investigated. Two weeks before that, he was caught on cell phone video at a holiday party Dec. 13 saying, "I've gotta have the evidence and I don't have it yet."
Noor hasn't publicly talked about the case but his partner, Officer Matthew Harrity, told investigators he was startled by a loud noise right before Damond approached their police SUV. Noor then shot her.
“Arriving at the right decision requires the right facts and complete truth. No institution – including the City of Minneapolis – should stand in the way of uncovering that truth,” said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
The Minnesota Police Federation confirms their members have received subpoenas to testify before a grand jury.
Grand juries in Hennepin County consist of 23 county residents according to former prosecutor Tom Heffelfinger. They convene around a table and hear testimony. The only other people in the room are the prosecutor and the court reporter. There are no defense attornies and no judge.
Heffelfinger says the grand jury has two roles, investigation and charging.
In this case, he says it could compel people to testify under oath and under the threat of a perjury charge.
“A grand jury can be really useful if the county attorney’s office believes they are not getting all the information available,” Heffelfinger said.
Thomas Plunkett, an attorney for Officer Noor said in a statement, “Mr. Freeman has announced that he is convening a Grand Jury as part of the investigation into Officer Noor. While his public comments leave me unclear as to what he is doing, it would be unethical and potentially unlawful to comment publicly on this development. Worse - any public comment would jeopardize the fairness of an important judicial function.”