The shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk on July 15 was a stunner, even with the dozens of high-profile cases of police brutality around the country in the past three years or so. Ruszczyk, who was from Australia and had been using the name Justine Damond in anticipation of her upcoming marriage, was a victim of police stupidity and brutality.
Such cases never seem to end. Just yesterday, we had reports that cops in Mississippi shot and killed a man while trying to serve a warrant . . . at the wrong house.
In the Ruszczyk case, she called 911 twice to report what sounded like an assault in an alley behind her home. After seeing a patrol car arrive, Ruszczyk went outside in her pajamas to speak with the cops. Officer Mohammed Noor, sitting in the passenger seat, apparently was startled by a noise and shot across his partner in the driver's seat -- striking and killing Ruszczyk, who was standing beside the vehicle.
According to a search warrant discovered this week, the noise came when Ruszczyk slapped the car, apparently trying to get the officers' attention. How can a woman in pajamas, who had alerted cops to a possible crime, come across as such a threat that she winds up dead?
That is one of many questions that has been racing through our minds as we think back to Sept. 9, 2015, and a potentially deadly encounter with cops. We had been targeted for an unlawful eviction that day -- even though a judge had issued only an interlocutory (non-final) order, and we had filed a notice of appeal that, by law, put a stay on the eviction. Roughly a week before the eviction, cops claimed (via my lawyer/brother, David Shuler) that I had called 911 threatening to shoot anyone who tried to evict us. Cops now admit I never made such a call, and court documents present zero evidence that I made such a threat. Even if I had, any forceful action to protect our property from unlawful intrusion would have been proper under Missouri's Castle Doctrine Law.
The 911 call attributed to me, which we now know never happened, caused a virtual SWAT team of cops to arrive at our duplex apartment -- bursting through the front door, with assault weapons and pistols flying in all directions. I was sitting in a chair, with my hands folded in my lap, as Officer Scott Harrison pointed an assault rifle at my cranium.
Carol and I knew at the time we were just a flick of a trigger finger away from being killed. But that understanding has been driven home further by the Justine Ruszczyk story.
Here's the scary part: We've seen, from firsthand experience, that a lot of cops are not very bright -- but we entrust them with all kinds of lethal weaponry. In the Ruszczyk case, a reasonable person can understand that it's jarring to be sitting in a vehicle and hear a loud, unfamiliar noise. But how can your first reaction be to fire a weapon in the general direction of the sound -- across your partner's body, for criminey's sake? The officers knew someone had reported a possible crime, and they should have known it was a woman. Didn't it make sense that the woman would be trying to contact them at the scene? Didn't it make sense to be on the lookout for her, so maybe she wouldn't have to slap your vehicle to get your attention. This is from a St. Paul Pioneer-Press story:
A woman approached the back of a Minneapolis police car and “slapped” it shortly before an Australian woman was shot and killed by an officer, according to a search warrant filed by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
The search warrant obtained by Minnesota Public Radio doesn’t specifically say that the woman was Justine Damond, but: “Upon police arrival, a female ‘slaps’ the back of the patrol squad … After that, it is unknown to BCA agents what exactly happened, but the female became deceased in the alley.”
Gotta love that cold, clinical language. The female became deceased in the alley? No kidding. I wonder how that happened. Notice there is no mention that she "became deceased" after a cop fired a gun in her direction. You can almost sense the warrant applicant trying to phrase this so that Ruszczyk herself could be blamed, at least a little bit, for "becoming deceased."
We've come across similar nonsense in records about our eviction. Consider this narrative from Officer Jeremy Lynn, describing what he saw as he burst into our home:
Once inside I observed a white male wearing a gray T-shirt and green shorts, sitting in a chair in the living room. The chair was approximately 15 feet from the front door. I also observed that the male was sitting very still and deliberate. His posture was very stoic as he started at me, emotionless. It was also very obvious that he was sitting in such a manner to make himself a threat.
Geez, the guy sounds disappointed that I didn't give him a reason to shoot me. He also makes every effort, in his last sentence, to place a supposed threat at my feet, even though officers now admit (and they had every reason to know then) I had directed no such threat toward them.
How much danger were Carol and I in that day? We've talked often of this very possible scenario: Baxter, our little boy kitty kat, was alive then and typically was prancing around somewhere near our feet. What if I had instinctively tried to reach for him, to protect him, as thugs were crashing into our home? What if he had been on my lap, and I tried to grab him as he jumped down? Would Carol and I be dead now because of such a sudden move?
Here is our policy: A lot of Americans (especially white ones) tend to view police favorably because they think cops offer protection against street thugs (usually viewed as someone with dark skin). Experience has taught us a couple of things:
(1) We will take our chances any day with a street thug over a stupid, heavily armed, and possibly corrupt cop. I've never had a street thug cause me harm. Cops have brutalized both Carol and me, inside and around our homes.
(2) Cops almost always take a sticky situation and make it worse. I've yet to see an instance where a cop has helped solve a problem. They seem much more likely to cause a problem -- or make one worse.
I'm guessing Justine Ruszczyk would have similar sentiments -- if she were able to share them with us now.