Training? Or Worldview? Why did a Minneapolis Cop with a Somali heritage shoot a Caucasian woman from Australia?

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By Jeremy Griffith
The American Millennium

 

Don Damond, the fiance of Justine, embraces Valerie Castile, mother of Philando who was killed by a police officer during a traffic stop last year. -photo by AP

Officer Brett exited his squad car and stepped onto the curb. His partner, Mike, put the car in park and exited from the driver’s side. They both approached the target house, a two-level residence with teal green siding and a three-season porch, with their guns drawn at the low-ready, pointed at the ground for safety. Minutes before they had been operating a speed trap on the other side of town. It had been a quiet day in this sleepy, middle Minnesota lake town. In a flash, it became much more exciting and dangerous. The two young officers approached the residence with caution, responding to a dispatcher’s emergency call. A young woman was being held against her will by her boyfriend inside, and the man had a gun!

Mike and Brett had talked about strategy as they drove to the call. Brett would take the front of the house, Mike would go around the rear. Brett would take a position of cover at the front and call out to the occupants inside. He would try to calm the young man inside and start to negotiate until the Quick Response Team got there. Mike would cover the back, in case the suspect attempted to flee that way. Neither would enter the building; their instructions were to wait for QRF! Once on the ground, however, the plan fell apart as the situation drastically changed.

The woman being held, a girl of 15 or 16, saw the police officers drive up through the big pane glass in the front living room. Her boyfriend, a man of 20 years, saw them too. Risking it all, the girl bolted out of the front door and onto the porch. Her boyfriend tried to stop her, but she was too fast. She skipped a step and ran towards the officers in the front lawn, passing smoothly between them. “He’s got a gun!” she said.  Brett was in front of Mike and as the girl passed by him, he positioned his body in front of hers, shielding her from her boyfriend, an angry young man who was recently discharged from the Army National Guard of Wisconsin for unsoldierly conduct. The man emerged from the house half a second later and pointed his gun.

It’s not clear if he was trying to engage the officers, or if he was trying to murder his girlfriend in an alcohol-fueled rage. What is known is that he fired, and struck Brett in the face. Brett had allowed himself to check over his shoulder, glancing at his partner and seeing that the girl was safely protected, then he turned towards the house, where he saw the man with the raised gun. He began to shout commands, but he was too late. He fell to the ground mortally wounded. Mike screamed in terror and rage, he raised his gun, but he didn’t fire. The girl and the body of his partner were in his line of fire. He let the girl pass by and watched helplessly as his partner fell to the ground in front of him. Then he started to engage the target, who quickly retreated into the protection of the house. Without firing, Mike lowered his gun again and rushed towards his partner’s side. Brett was lying face up, on his back, looking up at the sky with vacant eyes. Blood was gushing from a wound in his forehead. Mike put down his firearm and grabbed Brett’s hand. He kept calling his name, trying to keep his partner awake, comforting him.

Brett looked up, and uttered his last word, the name of his wife: Wendy!

The vignette you just read is a fictionalized account of an event that happened a few years ago in Lake City, Minnesota. No one really knows what happened, except for the people involved. Two of them are dead. The suspect killed himself during the standoff that followed. I’ve changed the names, because I don’t want to cause the families of the officers involved any more pain than they’ve already suffered. The officer who was wounded lingered for weeks in a hospital in Rochester, dying shortly before Christmas. The officer who lived, lives with the painful memory of what it was like to lose a partner and a good friend. A wife remembers her loving husband as she tries to raise three girls all on her own. This event clearly illustrates how quickly things can change in the day in the life of our law enforcement officers. In Army terms, we logisticians like to say that the plan is only good until the first shot is fired. It can be like that for our police officers, who have to balance their duty to protect and serve our citizens, catch the bad guys, and in the worst-case scenarios, defend their lives. At the end of the day, we want all our officers who protect us to go home safe to their families when their work shift is done.

In Minneapolis

The relationship we have with our officers has come into question again in Minneapolis following the death of an Australian woman Justine Damond, who was killed by a Somali police officer earlier in the week. The killing has caused a firestorm of controversy and has led to the resignation of the Minneapolis Police Chief, Janee Harteau. All the controversy is further fueled with the prosecution and acquittal of Minneapolis officer Jeronimo Yanez who shot and killed an African-American motorist last year. The relationship between residents and the police is strained, and has been for some time. Here is what we know about last week’s incident so far.

Damond called police the evening of July 16 to report what she thought might be a sexual assault happening in the alley behind her house. She also called her fiancé, who encouraged her to talk to police. Officer Matthew Harrity was driving down the alley with his partner Mohamed Noor in the passenger side. The lights were off, as were the body and dash cameras, as the officers slowly patrolled through the neighborhood, looking for potential suspects. There was a loud sound, according to testimony from Officer Harrity, after which Damond emerged from her house and approached the driver. Both men were startled by the sound, Harrity told investigators with the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), but Noor drew his gun. Firing across his partner, Noor fatally wounded Damond in the abdomen.

The officers rendered aid, it is said, but to no avail. While Officer Harrity gave testimony to what happened to the investigators of the BCA, Noor has lawyered up, offering no explanation as to why he fired. Police experts say it’s not implausible that the officers feared an ambush following similar incidents in New York City, but is it fair to assume that the way to respond is to shoot first and ask questions later?

Harrity and Noor are under paid administrative leave as per protocol in the incident, but all the focus is on Noor. Both men reacted drastically different to the same stimuli, Noor fatally. According to the reports from the Star Tribune, some police experts wonder if the fast-track training of the rookie officer was to blame. Noor didn’t graduate with traditional law enforcement degree. He has a business degree. The 21-month rookie took an eight-month fast track course aimed at recruiting officers from different backgrounds into a force that is grossly undermanned. Experts who talked to the Star Tribune say the course focuses largely on tactics, but not strategy, neglecting crucial areas of a police officer’s education. But, is that fair? The instructors at the fast-track academy may not have advanced degrees, but presumably they are trained law enforcement officials with years of patrol experience and anecdotal tales to use as vignettes to train up new recruits. With all that experience, one would assume that eight months is enough to train up an officer. The service branches take similar time to train their private soldiers. It takes about 18-months to train an officer at many of the state and federal commissioning sources. For me, Infantry Officer’s Basic was four months long. I spent a two-years in ROTC before that. Many graduates go to Airborne School, (3 weeks) and Ranger School (9 weeks) after that. Soldiers once trained and deployed are restricted by vigorous rules of engagement. Police officers should be as well. 

I really feel that piling on to the instructors at the academy is unfair, and a cheap shot by the Star Tribune. Without knowing what is in the curriculum, The Star Tribune paints the instructors with a very broad brush. I would encourage the instructors to invite bloggers and journalists in the state to come and audit some of their blocks of instruction so that the public can get an idea about how their new police candidates are being trained. Without that background, criticism of the program is just sloppy journalism.

Indeed, members of the press should ask law enforcement agencies for permission to do ride alongs, to get a feel for what it’s really like to patrol the streets. Our law enforcement leaders should bridge the gap of understanding by holding open meeting to discuss policy and training with the public. Here in Rochester, the Olmsted County Sheriff and Rochester Police Chief are doing that, scheduling a demonstration on body cameras later this week. All law enforcement agencies should do that.

With the recent shootings of dogs in Minneapolis, that agency should review its policy on how to deal with animals found in the course of normal patrol and service calls. Tactics on less lethal means of engagement should be resourced and trained. They are not always feasible for every situation, but they are a tool in the tool kit that may be being overlooked.

We don’t want our patrolmen and women whipping out their guns every time there is an incident. We also don’t want our officers to be jeopardized every time they respond to a call.

Training? Or Worldview?

Was it training, or was it vetting of potential candidates that is the problem? In a report from the Daily Telegraph, a neighbor of the Noor family paints a picture of Noor that shows that perhaps he wasn’t the most pleasant person to be around.

Chris Miller is a 49-year old African-American who drives a fork lift for a living. He lives next door to a complex where Noor’s parents and younger siblings live, and he has seen Noor there. Miller explains that Noor seems to have very little respect for kids, women and blacks he comes in contact with.

““He is extremely nervous … he is a little jumpy … he doesn’t really respect women, the least thing you say to him can set him off,” Miller said.

““He is extremely nervous … he is a little jumpy … he doesn’t really respect women, the least thing you say to him can set him off!” -Chris Miller, describing neighbor Mohamed Noor

“When they say a policeman shot an Australian lady I thought uh, oh but then when they said who it was I was like, ‘OK.’” Said Miller.

“He has little respect for women he has little respect for blacks and kids,” said Miller.

“He has an air like you just couldn’t really be around him.”

We wonder if the Somali worldview and strict adherence of the Islamic world view are the right fit for someone we want patrolling our streets and dealing with our citizens. From testimony from Miller, we find a Noor who is not a good neighbor, intolerant of kids, disrespectful of women, and not pleasant to be around.

From his record as an officer, we find that in the 21-months since he’s been hired, Noor has racked up three complaints, two of which remain open. The last one is a case where a woman complains that she was dragged off to a hospital for an involuntary mental commitment. She was released several hours later after the woman complained she had no need to be there and the officer roughed her up and put her in an arm bar.

The City of Minneapolis invested a lot of time, money and effort in hiring Noor, who had no law enforcement training previous to being hired. He was praised as a diversity hero when he was first hired. Now Minneapolis residents label him the villain. It may take even more time, effort and money to remove him from the force and make things right with the Damond family. Already it has caused a serious change in leadership in Minneapolis. The police chief has resigned and things look a little rocky for the mayor. If a charge is brought against Noor, and the case laid in front of a jury of his peers, the verdict may well be in the hands of at least a few citizens of Minneapolis who have a similar worldview as the defendant. What would an acquittal look like? Or a conviction? Either way, I foresee a lot more pain in the Cities, future as this case is being decided.

In the meantime, LE agencies should take a closer look at their policies and reach out to their communities. LE training facilities and schools should take another look at their curriculum to see if changes or a refocusing is needed. And citizens should march and talk, but not burn or destroy. At the end of the day, we are all in this together.

Our hearts and prayers go out to the Damond family and the neighborhood. No amount of analysis or discussion can lessen your grief. We are very sorry for your loss.

For further reading:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2017/06/16/minn-officer-acquitted-of-manslaughter-for-shooting-philando-castile-during-traffic-stop/?utm_term=.63c8572a22b6

http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/world/neighbour-of-justine-damonds-killer-gives-shocking-new-insight-into-his-behaviour/news-story/34eb2c08676af98afc376d83aaff31dd

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/cops-question-witness-filmed-minn-police-shooting-article-1.3347335

http://www.startribune.com/minneapolis-police-face-questions-about-noor-s-fast-track-training/436057173/

http://www.startribune.com/what-we-know-about-mohamed-noor-minneapolis-police-officer-who-fatally-shot-justine-damond/435018163/#1

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/21/us/minneapolis-police-chief-resigns-days-after-officer-fatally-shot-a-woman.html

Jeremy Griffith, the creator of The American Millennium Online. He is a military veteran of the Iraq War. He retired as a Captain in 2015. 

A Veteran’s Unsolicited Advice For a Young Lieutenant

Jeremy Griffith

The American Millennium Online
Captain Jeremy Griffith in Baghdad 2007

Captain Jeremy Griffith in Baghdad 2007

 

I recently ran across an uplifting article about a young lieutenant in the Army National Guard here in Minnesota. Uplifting, because it looks like a young officer just beginning his career is on top of the world and is looking for an exciting and action packed life. As a recent retiree, I feel it’s my duty to throw the cold water of reality on the situation.

 

Luke Dery has been in the Minnesota Guard a while now and has his first platoon leader position, a platoon of medics. You can read about his story in Star Tribune here. Apparently he’s got a degree in biology from the University of Minnesota and is working on an MBA. Good for him. The life is challenging, but he’s enjoying it. Good for you.

 

Now here is what you can expect in your future that the recruiters at ROTC didn’t explain. With luck you probably had “the talk” with your first platoon sergeant. Hopefully, like mine, he or she is a seasoned veteran with loads of advice for a new LT. He or she probably pulled you aside and said, “You got all the book learnin’ LT, now listen to an old salt and let me tell you how it really is.” In lieu of that scenario, here is my advice to you.

 

Enjoy your time in the Guard, but be wary. Get to the rank of Captain as fast as you can and don’t dawdle. Stay healthy and in shape, and pray you don’t get hurt. PT sucks when you’re hurt. If they pull out the command chair for a company for you, take it! And, when your two or three years is up in the command slot, GET THE HELL OUT! You’ll have all the leadership experience you need to look impressive to prospective employers from platoon leader to company commander, but beyond that, the Guard becomes your career, not your civilian job.

 

Don’t expect to always have cake walk two week annual training periods. More often than not, as a leader, they’ll ask you to do more, maybe three to four weeks, which will leave your civilian employer scratching his head. The longer you stay, the more pissed off your civilian employer will get. Don’t breed that animosity. And if you are deployed, forget about it. You’re employer will really be pissed and if they’re good, they’ll hold your slot, if not, they’ll find a way to fire you for cause. They’re required to keep your slot by law, but if they word the paper work carefully, they will find a way to let you go.

 

If you do decide to make the Army your career, get out of the Guard after your command and join the Reserves. The process is fairly easy and there is usually a mass exodus from the Guard to the Reserve at the captain level. The Reserve recruiter will understand. I’m sure it will be easy to place a medical services officer and there will no doubt be a major slot with your name on it. And then the way is paved for you to Lieutenant Colonel and beyond. But not if you stay in the Minnesota Guard. Don’t do as I did and wait too long. Opportunities are wasted if you wait.

 

Hopefully now that the “wars” are over, you’ll settle down in a routine, but I wouldn’t count on it. Thank your lucky stars you missed out on the West Africa Ebola Mission! Barack Obama won’t be president forever and the war on terror is far from over. In a new administration, the deployments might kick up again and you can expect to spend long periods away from home. Embrace the suck. Wives and girlfriends aren’t terribly understanding after the second or third deployment.

“Thank your lucky stars you missed out on the West Africa Ebola Mission!”

And prepare to watch your men die. That is what platoon leaders and company commanders do on deployment. There’s no way around it. Commanders’ duty is to make sure their units are well trained and equipped. Ready to go. Training breeds confidence, confidence removes fear, fear breeds hesitation, hesitation will get you killed. The old drill sergeants will tell you that a well trained soldier is more likely to survive and that is partially true. A well-trained crew in an uparmored vehicle driving down the main supply route can be easily picked out. They drive aggressive, they own the road, the gunner is out and alert, his head on a swivel. The crew looks badass and Haji don’t wanna fuck with them. They’ll fuck around with the crew that doesn’t look prepared for a fight. Haji is a coward, but he ain’t stupid.

“Training breeds confidence, confidence removes fear, fear breeds hesitation, hesitation will get you killed.”

An ill prepared crew will get killed far more often than a crew that is properly trained. A crew that sucks in training will not be confident in you, the leadership or their skills and they’ll eventually balk at doing their jobs under stress. Then you’ll have to discipline the whole platoon and squad. Don’t be that guy.

 

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you won’t lose anyone because you’re good. You will. You just won’t lose as many. The ones you do lose will be the good ones, the best of the best and that will make it all that much harder. Navy SEALS get killed, and there is no one better than they are. Sometimes Haji gets lucky.

“Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you won’t lose anyone because you’re good. . .  Sometimes Haji gets lucky.”

Take a good pen with you on deployment. You’ll need it to sign the letters back to family members explaining to them how you lost little Johnny or Janie. No form letters. Family can see through that shit. Make it personal. If there are tear stains on the paper, all the better. Its hurt to write those letters. It’s supposed too. You can type it out to make it official, but then you sign with your nice pen. Make it personal. Families will thank you for your candor. They’ll resent you if you do it half-assed.

 

As a platoon leader of medics, you have the bravest of the brave working for you. Everybody loves Doc. Get over the notion that your platoon will be all yours during deployment. Most likely you’ll have most of your medics farmed out to other units, aka detached and Opconed, where you will have little influence in the lives and fortunes of your men. The gaining unit will have responsibility, hopefully they’ll get a good unit. More than likely you’ll hear a few horror stories, so be prepared.

 

Minnesota Guard is a combat arms driven state. If you aren’t Ranger qualified and aren’t an Infantry or Armor guy, they powers that be won’t understand your value and they won’t respect you. So they won’t hold command slots open for you. And you can forget about field grade, unless you’re a surgeon. That’s why it’s important to jump ship early. Only you can manage your career.

 

I’ve had good moments in my career and bad. Hopefully you will benefit from my bad experiences. Here are a few of the shittier assignments and experiences I’ve had that you can look forward to.

 

*Soldier of mine suffering from spots on his lungs, VA won’t pay because the problem wasn’t identified in theater. Probable cause, burn pits. Sucks to be him. Minnesota VA is better than most, and still won’t do much. Embrace the suck.

 

*I once had to sit on a young lieutenant in jail. Yes, a lieutenant! A young African-American officer went AWOL at Annual Training, and then when he decided to show up to work, he threatened to assault his company commander, also African American. The decision was made to throw him in jail at Fort McCoy over night and let a few of us captains sit on him to make sure he didn’t hurt himself, because contracted police at Ft. McCoy don’t provide jailors. Units have to do that. I’m retired now, and that knucklehead is still in. How does that work?

 

*I was asked to provide security for the St. Paul Airport and the Army and Air National Guard air assets for the Republican National Convention in 2008. Local law enforcement response teams as well as the FBI where deploying from there. The Coast Guard had helicopters deploying from there to monitor the air space around the rivers. There were other assets deploying from there that I could not recognize. In preparation to make a decent base defense, I asked for barrier material, concertina wire, serpentine road obstacles, shot guns with less-lethal bean bag ammo, M9 Berettas, body armor, protective masks, CS gas, and a shelter for my 8 Janes and Jonnies. I got plastic barriers and a trailer. My guys had to be out there in the hot weather in their battle rattle with no weapons of any kind with our good looks and verbal judo checking ID cards of people coming into the airport. I didn’t get any of the training I requested, because I didn’t get the weapons. Thank God for Homeland Security and the local South Saint Paul Police Department who had their weapons, otherwise I would be out there in the wind alone. Embrace the suck.

 

*During my tenure, a Command Sergeant Major was relieved of duty for harassing female soldiers on deployment. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a female lieutenant who refused to take it anymore and reported him. The CSM should have been busted to E-1 and kicked out. Instead he was busted from E-9 to E-7 and allowed to quietly retire. The good old boys network was in full force. Embrace the Suck.

 

*On deployment to Iraq I had a less than stellar soldier attached to me for a long term work detail. He related this story. He was injured on deployment and couldn’t work and was not allowed to rotate home. He also had the bad habit of showing up late for work detail and hanging around his girlfriend’s living area after hours, for which the unit tried corrective action. To correct some of his behaviors, the unit decided to lock him in to a shipping container over night without a cot or a blanket. When the corrections didn’t hold, the soldierwas farmed out, that is Opconed, to me where he was slightly better than totally worthless. (I actually got him showing up on time four times out of seven!) I approached the unit command to try to find out more about his situation. I advised that nowhere in the UCMJ did I find that you could incarcerate a soldier for Article 15 procedures in a shipping container. You can take pay, you can demote a soldier, you cannot lock people in a box. I politely recommended that he be placed in housing with a sergeant who could keep a better eye on the lad from here on out. “Tut tut, young captain!” I was told, as the sergeant major patted me on the head like I was a puppy. “We handle things our own way in our company.” I advised JAG of the situation, but in theater, JAG doesn’t work for the soldier, he works for the commander. A soldier can get representation, but the Trial Service doesn’t have offices in theater. The soldier had to make a call to some rag bag kicking up his heals somewhere in Europe. After a 20 minute call, the soldier decided his situation working with me was better than what was going on with his unit and that he would gut it out until the end of deployment. Embrace the Suck.

 

*I saved the best for last. I once had to do a 10-6 investigation on a soldier and his unit. What was his crime you ask? Embezzlement? Assault? Disrespect to a senior officer? Nope, nope, nope! ADULTERY! The smuck cheated on his wife, with a female soldier in his unit. A Military Police Company! Sounds medieval doesn’t it, but the Army can and will prosecute you for that. That’s awesome! I was in a room, interviewing a 20-something pregnant beauty with doey blue eyes and long dark hair as she sniffled and moaned about how much her douche bag husband had hurt her and their family. It doesn’t get any better than that. I had a long talk with members of his unit, after which I thought, this is going nowhere. I got nothing. If this kid is smart he’ll lawyer up and say nothing and then I got nothing expect an unhappy bride who is 8-months along. I finally got the knuckle head in my office. “So!” I told the young sergeant. “Are you cheating on your wife and if so, why?!” I had a 30 minute discussion, on tape, as the soldier explained how and why he had tried unsuccessfully to cheat on the Missus, after I had read the soldier his rights. I made recommendations to JAG for conduct unbecoming and called it a day. I didn’t hear how it went, but I hope they busted the soldier back to specialist. Two weeks later I got a call from the wife. They had gotten back together and were trying to make a go for it. I was asked to drop any charges. I told the young lady that this episode might be a pattern of behavior and that I’d already submitted my findings to JAG. It was up to them. I hope she is doing well, but again, I never heard.

 

And that young lieutenant is a brief summary of the kinds of things you might find yourself dealing with if you stay in the guard. Take my advice with a grain of salt. Mind your own career because no one else will. I hope you have good, true leaders above you who recognize you’re worth. Be aware of those who don’t, and when you think you’ve had enough, move on with your life. It is your life and career to manage. Hopefully, it will be a good one.

“It is your life and career to manage. Hopefully, it will be a good one.”

 

Ziggurat of Ur, Camp Adder Iraq

Ziggurat of Ur, Camp Adder Iraq

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Star Tribune Poll in Favor of Voter ID dated May 2011

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