MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman publicly apologized Monday for his comments last week on the investigation into the Justine Damond shooting.
In a YouTube video and written statement, the county attorney said he was wrong to discuss the work of the Minnesota Bureau of Apprehension, which is investigating the officer-involved shooting that made headlines around the world last summer after Damond was fatally shot by a Minneapolis police officer after she called 911.
"I was wrong to discuss the agency's work on the Justine Damond case in a public setting," Freeman said in the statement, adding that he personally apologized over the weekend to the commissioner of public safety.
The apology comes in the wake of a holiday party Wednesday night for the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation. There, Freeman was confronted by an activist group, and one of the members recorded the encounter.
When questioned about the Damond case, Freeman told the activists that he couldn't make a decision until the BCA investigation is complete. He also expressed frustration with the lack of cooperation from Minneapolis police and blamed BCA investigators for not doing their jobs.
"Let me just say it's not my fault," he tells the activists in the recording. "So, if it isn't my fault, who didn't do their job? It's called investigators. They don't work for me."
In his statement Monday, Freeman said he didn't know he was being recorded during the discussion. However, he added: "Nonetheless, my comments, under any circumstances, were ill advised and I am sorry."
After activists released the video of Freeman last week, Gov. Mark Dayton defended the BCA, saying that the agency is asked to investigate the "toughest, most complex cases" in the state. The governor added that he had the "utmost confidence" in the agency's professionalism.
The Minneapolis Police Department also expressed concern with Freeman's comments, as did the attorney who is representing the Damond family.
On Monday, Freeman specifically addressed the Damond family and others in the community concerned about justice in the case.
"No one cares more about justice in this matter than I do," the county attorney said. "Investigators and members of the Hennepin County Attorney's Office, including me, have been working nonstop to gather all evidence, follow every lead and bring this matter to a resolution. Police cases, however, are very complex. They demand the most thorough and complete investigations possible. While some clamor for swift justice, only careful, detailed work and careful analysis brings us real justice."
Damond, 40, was fatally shot by Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor on July 15. The Australian native had called 911 that night to report a possible sexual assault behind her Fulton neighborhood home.
In August, Freeman said the decision on whether to bring charges in the case should come by the end of the year.
Robert Bennett, the attorney for Damond's family, responded to Freeman's apology in a statement Monday:
"In a carefully crafted statement Mike Freeman issued an apology for when, where and how he discussed the BCA's work. But most notably he did not say that any criticism or complaint he leveled at the BCA was, in any way, inaccurate or unfounded. I believe that as the facts about the manner of the BCA's investigation become known that these very serious criticisms and complaints made by our county attorney will be found to be true. If so, the BCA should be the party apologizing, not only to the county attorney, but to John Ruszczyk, the Ruszczyk family, Don Damond and every citizen of the State of Minnesota."
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