Janeé Harteau says she did all she could to rush back to Minneapolis last month from a hiking trip after hearing one of her officers, responding to a 911 call, had shot and killed the caller. By the time she returned, the damage was done, Minnesota Public Radio reports. The killing of Justine Ruszczyk Damond by officer Mohamed Noor sent the city reeling and morphed into an international incident. Nearly a week later, Harteau was out, with Mayor Betsy Hodges demanding her resignation. That blindsided the chief, who says now she initially didn’t realize the depth of anger ignited by the shooting — or the political fallout to come. “I wasn’t in a place where I could see what was happening,” said Harteau, 52, in her first media interview since her ouster. It took two plane trips and a three-hour car ride to get back to Minnesota, she said, nearly four days after the shooting.
In 2012, Harteau became the city’s first woman and first openly gay police chief. Almost immediately, she was thrust into the national spotlight when President Obama made Minneapolis his first stop in a tour promoting “common sense” gun control measures. Observers give her credit for starting changes in police culture and training that may pay off in the years to come. “It’s fair to say her view of policing was consistent with a lot of the more forward-thinking, progressive thinking police chiefs in the country,” said Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum. The average tenure for chiefs in large cities is three and a half to four and a half years. Wexler said, “Every police chief in this country is one bad car stop away from really losing their legitimacy.”