Death of Jus­tine Da­mond com­pared to death of preg­nant Seat­tle mom

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Jesse J. Hol­land,

The fa­tal shoot­ing of an un­armed Aus­tralian woman isn’t the first time po­lice in the U.S. have mis­tak­enly killed some­one who called them for help.

WASH­ING­TON» The fa­tal shoot­ing of an un­armed Aus­tralian woman in Min­nesota isn’t the first time po­lice in the U.S. have mis­tak­enly killed some­one who called them for help or to re­port a crime.

Of­fi­cers around the na­tion have mis­tak­enly slain or wounded peo­ple in other cases, in­clud­ing a preg­nant Seat­tle mother shot to death ear­lier this year af­ter re­port­ing a break-in and a Ge­or­gia man who in 2014 re­ported that his girl­friend had been stabbed and was fa­tally shot by the re­spond­ing of­fi­cer.

The death of Jus­tine Da­mond, who was white, comes af­ter sev­eral years of pub­lic de­bate about po­lice use of force fol­low­ing the video-recorded deaths of black men at the hands of of­fi­cers.

“Main­stream Amer­ica is now look­ing at this and say­ing, ‘Wow, we’ve got a prob­lem,’ and yet it’s been go­ing on over and over,” said Brent Wilkes, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the League of United Latin Amer­i­can Cit­i­zens.

Matthew Barge, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Po­lice As­sess­ment Re­source Cen­ter’s New York City of­fice, said ad­di­tional train­ing for of­fi­cers on when to draw and fire their weapons is al­ways a good idea.

“Po­lice of­fi­cers can make mis­takes be­cause they’re hu­man too,” Barge said.

Da­mond, a 40-year-old yoga in­struc­tor and life coach, called 911 twice on the night of July 15 to re­port a pos­si­ble sex­ual as­sault be­hind her home be­fore she was shot by Of­fi­cer Mo­hamed Noor.

Noor’s part­ner, Of­fi­cer Matthew Har­rity, told in­ves­ti­ga­tors he was driv­ing in the al­ley with all of the squad car’s lights off when he was star­tled by a loud noise that au­thor­i­ties did not de­scribe. Har­rity said Da­mond ap­peared at the driver’s side win­dow “im­me­di­ately af­ter­ward” and Noor fired, strik­ing her in the ab­domen. She died at the scene.

Noor has de­clined to be in­ter­viewed by state in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

Da­mond’s rel­a­tives in Aus­tralia have hired lawyer Robert Ben­nett, who rep­re­sented the fam­ily of Phi­lando Castile, a black mo­torist who was also gunned down by a Min­neapo­lis-area of­fi­cer.

Some ob­servers have drawn com­par­isons be­tween Da­mond’s death and that of Charleena Lyles, a 30-year-old preg­nant mother.

Within min­utes of ar­riv­ing June 18 to take a bur­glary re­port, two Seat­tle of­fi­cers drew their guns and shot Lyles in front of three of her chil­dren.

The of­fi­cers said they feared for their lives and had no choice but to use lethal force af­ter Lyles tried to stab Of­fi­cer Ja­son An­der­son in the stom­ach and cor­nered Of­fi­cer Steven McNew in the kitchen.

As with Da­mond, there is no video of the con­fronta­tion, and her death has prompted out­rage among fam­ily and com­mu­nity mem­bers, who ques­tioned why the of­fi­cers could not use non­lethal meth­ods. Lyles was black, and the of­fi­cers were white.

“She’s ac­tu­ally the one to dial 911 and ... she ends up dead on the floor in front of her chil­dren,” James Bi­ble, a lawyer for the Lyles fam­ily, said last month.

Seat­tle Mayor Ed Murray has or­dered the po­lice depart­ment to equip patrol of­fi­cers with body cam­eras “so we know what hap­pens dur­ing in­ter­ac­tions with the pub­lic.”

Kevin Davis was shot by a DeKalb County, Ge­or­gia, po­lice of­fi­cer in De­cem­ber 2014 af­ter call­ing 911 to re­port his girl­friend had been stabbed. Davis, who was armed, was not told by the emer­gency op­er­a­tor that po­lice had ar­rived at the scene.

The re­spond­ing of­fi­cer, Joseph Pitts, shot Davis’ dog and said Davis did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a de­mand that he drop his weapon.

Civil rights groups are call­ing for vol­un­teers to be trained in the le­gal­i­ties of us­ing per­sonal cell­phones to record video of po­lice to en­sure there is a record of what hap­pens when of­fi­cers in­ter­act with cit­i­zens.

The Mul­ti­cul­tural Me­dia, Tele­com and In­ter­net Coun­cil and 10 other civil rights or­ga­ni­za­tions say pri­vate video can be­come a tool to help pros­e­cute wrong­do­ing or clear po­lice of­fi­cers when they are in the right, MMTC Pres­i­dent Kim Keenan said.

“It takes (Da­mond’s) shoot­ing for other peo­ple to fig­ure it out,” Keenan said. “Now you have all of these peo­ple who care — be­cause it didn’t hap­pen over there to them.”

Aaron Lavinsky, Star Tri­bune

Robyn Traxler, a life­long res­i­dent of the Lin­den Hills neigh­bor­hood, places flow­ers Wed­nes­day at the memo­rial for Jus­tine Da­mond on the steps of the Lake Har­riet Spir­i­tual Com­mu­nity Church in south Min­neapo­lis.

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