Minneapolis police chief resigns in wake of fatal shooting of unarmed woman
MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau resigned Friday, less than a week after a city officer shot and killed a woman who had called officers for help.
Harteau, chief since 2013, said the killing of Justine Ruszczyk was among several factors that led her to step down.
“Last Saturday’s tragedy, as well as some other recent incidents, have caused me to engage in deep reflection,” she said in a statement. “I’ve decided I am willing to step aside to let a fresh set of leadership eyes see what more can be done for the MPD to be the very best it can be.”
Mayor Betsy Hodges said she asked Harteau to resign because “I’ve lost confidence in the chief’s ability to lead us further — and from the many conversations I’ve had with people around our city, especially this week, it is clear that she has lost the confidence of the people of Minneapolis as well.”
Ruszczyk’s death didn’t lead to street protests, but protesters drowned out Hodges when she tried to announce the replacement chief Friday night at city hall.
“We don’t want you as our mayor of Minneapolis anymore,” shouted activist John Clark. “We ask that you take your staff with you. We don’t want you to appoint anyone anymore.”
“Bye-bye, Betsy,” the crowd chanted. Unable to finish her statement, Hodges and the city communications staff walked out of the room.
Hodges returned to the microphone about 20 minutes later, after the protesters left, and announced that Assistant Chief Medaria “Rondo” Arradondo will move into Harteau’s job. The mayor said she would not resign.
Shot by an officer
Ruszczyk, 40, was an Australian native who moved to Minnesota in 2014 and was active in the community as a yoga and meditation instructor. Her wedding was scheduled for next month.
She had called 911 to report a possible assault near her home. Minneapolis police officers Mohamed Noor and Matthew Harrity arrived about 11:30 p.m. Saturday.
Police said a squad car entered an alley and Ruszczyk, 40, approached the driver’s side to talk with the officers.
The officer in the passenger seat, Noor, shot and killed the unarmed Ruszczyk, police said.
No charges have been filed, but the officers have been placed on administrative leave. Noor had been with the force for two years and was his precinct’s first Somali-American officer.
Police have not offered a complete explanation for the killing and the department has come in for heavy criticism because the two officers wore body cameras but had not turned them on.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is leading the investigation and her death is being investigated as a police shooting.
Thursday, in her first comments on the case, Harteau said the shooting “should not have happened. … On our squad cars, you will find the words: ‘To protect with courage and serve with compassion.’ This did not happen.”
Other police shootings
Police violence is a major issue in the Minneapolis area.
Philando Castile was killed outside the city, but the trial of the officer who shot him — which ended in acquittal — was held in Ramsey County, Minnesota, 15 miles from Minneapolis. Protesters marched through the city afterward.
A fatal police shooting that happened in Minneapolis also led to street protests.
Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old African-American, was killed in a scuffle with white Minneapolis officers in front of an apartment building during the early hours of November 15, 2015.
The officers were not charged with a crime. A police internal investigation determined they did not violate department policies and will not face discipline.
A call for change
Bob Kroll, president of the Police Officers Federation, applauded Harteau’s resignation and the appointment of Arrando, and said Hodges should step down, too.
“I don’t think people should be confused and obviously by what’s going on there now (the news conference interruption), they’re not. The next one to resign should be Mayor Hodges,” he said.
Harteau’s resignation heartened protesters who came out to demonstrate at Loring Park.
“I think it’s a really good sign,” Lauren Rice said. “I think you need to start with those people at the top, and when you have this many citizens involved, that’s how it trickles down. It starts at the top, and the citizens just keep pushing for change.”
At a Friday meeting, city council member Linea Palmisano said the Castile shooting could have happened in Minneapolis.
“I think we need to fundamentally change the way police operate in our city, and if this means a change in leadership … then so be it, because we have a systemic problem,” she said.
Harteau joined the Minneapolis Police Department as an officer in 1987, at age 22. She was the department’s first female and openly gay chief.