What Happened in the Shooting of Justine Damond?

Last summer in a quiet neighborhood in South Minneapolis, Justine Damond Ruszczyk called 911.   She reported  suspicious noises behind her house.  Within an hour, the police arrived but didn’t find a suspect.  Somehow, Officer Mohamed Noor shot and killed Ruszczyk.

The community reacted with horror and anger.  Even today, various groups demand that the local prosecutor charge the officer with murder.

justine damondMinneapolis Public Radio has revealed an unsettling trend in the police department. It may explain what happened in the Justine Damond case.


Typically, police departments make all new recruits go through psychological tests.  They evluate how balanced they are, how intelligent, and how they might react in a crises situation.  Will they remain calm or will they freak-out?  Prior to 2012, the Minneapolis Police department made new people go through five different tests.  Since then, they dropped all of the them and changed to one test only.

The person doing all the testing for Minneapolis is not a psychologist.  He’s a psychiatrist—usually qualified to prescribe meds.  The doctor who has done all the testing has little experience in law enforcement situations.

Why did this happen?

Police say that there are many other ways to qualify new recruits.  The extensive testing has not been necessary.  Cost is not an issue since the psychiatrist doing the recent testing was as expensive as previous ones.

Here’s what’s going on.

Prior to hiring the latest psychiatrist, the department had fired his two predecessors.  They “rejected too many minority candidates.”  The psychiatrist (before this story broke) was also asked to leave because he “rejected too many minority candidates.”

It’s understandable and important that any city’s police department mirror the community they work in.  Yet is it wise to put the need for diversity over the need to hire officers who are psychologically sound?  I’m not qualified to say that Officer Noor was psychologically unfit to cause the shooting death of Justine Damond.  But it is important that all police officers are stable and calm in crises situations.

All states in the country administer similar testing for new police recruits.  But each state is different.  California has the most rigorous testing while other states do more or less.  Could this explain some of the shootings of citizens by police officers?

In Minneapolis, the death of Justine Damond will not result in any criminal charges against Officer Noor.  That’s because the prosecutor doesn’t have much evidence: Officer Noor has a right to remain silent, his partner has refused to talk.  There were no other witnesses and there was no video or sound recordings of the incident.

Maybe this is a wake-up call to police departments around the country.  Maybe they shouldre-assess their psychological testing procedure to make sure unfit people are not given the right to carry and use deadly force.

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About Colin Nelson

Colin T. Nelson worked for 40 years as a prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis. He tried everything from speeding tickets to first degree murder. His writing about the courtroom and the legal system give the reader a "back door" view of what goes on, what's funny, and what's a good story. He has also traveled extensively and includes those locations in his mysteries. Some are set in Southeast Asia, Ecuador,Peru, and South Africa. Readers get a suspenseful tale while learning about new places on the planet. Colin is married, has two adult children, and plays the saxophone in various bands.

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