Minneapolis police silent on shooting
MINNEAPOLIS — Relatives and neighbors of an Australian woman who was fatally shot by Minneapolis police over the weekend demanded answers Monday about the mysterious shooting in which the meditation teacher and bride-to-be was reportedly killed by a bullet fired through a squad-car door.
Authorities released no details about what led to the shooting of Justine Damond, whose fiance said she had called 911 to report what she believed was a sexual assault in an alley near her home.
Police said only that officers were responding to a call about a possible assault late Saturday when she was killed. There were no known witnesses other than the two officers in the squad car that showed up. A newspaper report said Damond was shot while standing outside the driver’s door in her pajamas.
Her fiance, Don Damond, said the family has been given almost no additional information about what happened after police arrived.
Justine Damond’s family members in Australia also released a statement Monday through Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, saying they “are trying to come to terms with this tragedy and to understand why this has happened.”
Although authorities did not release the woman’s name, the Star Tribune identified her as Damond, from Sydney. The newspaper reported that she was engaged to be married in August and was using her fiance’s last name. Her maiden name was Justine Ruszczyk.
Almost two days after her death, police offered no public explanation and referred questions to the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. A Monday statement from the bureau said more information would be provided once the officers were interviewed.
The bureau said Monday that no weapons were found at the scene.
Area media identified the officer who fired as Mohamed Noor, who is a Somali-American. A city newsletter said he joined the city’s Police Department in March 2015.
His attorney, Tom Plunkett, released a statement to Minneapolis television station WCCO saying, “We take this seriously with great compassion for all persons who are being touched by this.” Plunkett did not return messages left by The Associated Press.
The Star Tribune, citing three people with knowledge of the shooting it did not name, said the officers pulled into the alley in a single squad car, and Damond talked to the driver. The newspaper’s sources said the officer in the passenger seat shot Damond through the driver’s side door. A Bureau of Criminal Apprehension spokesman did not return messages seeking to confirm that account.
Neighbor Joan Hargrave called the killing “an execution” and said there was no reason for a well-trained officer to see Damond as a threat.
“This is a tragedy — that someone who’s asking for help would call the police and get shot by the police,” Hargrave said.
Officials said the officers’ body cameras were not turned on and that a squad car camera did not capture the shooting. Investigators were still trying to determine whether other video exists.
It’s not clear why the officers’ body cameras were not turned on. The department’s policy allows for a variety of situations in which officers are supposed to do so, including “any contact involving criminal activity” and before use of force. If a body camera is not turned on before use of force, it’s supposed to be turned on as soon as it’s safe to do so.
Once the investigation is completed, it would be up to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to decide whether to charge the officer.
Freeman would not comment on the broader case Monday, but he said both officers likely should have turned on their body cameras as they were approached by Damond in an alley.
Police Chief Janee Harteau called the killing a “tragic death” and said she understands why the community has questions. “I’ve asked for the investigation to be expedited to provide transparency and to answer as many questions as quickly as we can,” she said.
Some 50 friends and neighbors gathered in a semicircle Sunday near the shooting site, with many more looking on from the sidewalk and street. Chalk hearts containing the names of people who were victims of police violence were drawn on the driveway.
By Monday, flowers had also been left at the scene, along with a handwritten sign that asked, “Why did you shoot and kill our neighbor?”
Don Damond, whose fiancee was fatally shot over the weekend by Minneapolis police, is comforted by his son Zach before making a statement Monday near his home.