AMER­I­CAN NIGHT­MARE

Syd­ney life coach Jus­tine Da­mond called 911 about a noise in the back al­ley. Po­lice turned up. Then they killed her, point blank.

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - Front Page - SARAH BLAKE IN MIN­NEAPO­LIS

AMER­I­CAN po­lice will to­day try to ex­plain why an un­armed Syd­ney woman was gunned down in her py­ja­mas by of­fi­cers af­ter call­ing 911 for help.

Two po­lice of­fi­cers have been stood aside pend­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion over the death of Jus­tine Da­mond out­side her af­flu­ent Min­neapo­lis home. The for­mer north­ern beaches life coach was just weeks away from get­ting mar­ried to an Amer­i­can busi­ness­man.

She made the fate­ful call about 11.30pm af­ter hear­ing “a pos­si­ble as­sault”.

US me­dia re­ported she was speak­ing to po­lice through the door of their pa­trol car when she was killed by at least one shot from the two of­fi­cers who re­sponded. Their body cam­eras were not switched on and the car’s dash­board cam­era did not cap­ture the in­ci­dent.

A SYD­NEY woman just weeks away from her wed­ding was shot dead by po­lice in her adopted new home­town in Amer­ica’s Mid­west af­ter call­ing 911 for help.

The dev­as­tated fam­ily and friends of Jus­tine Ruszczyk Da­mond, 40, yes­ter­day de­manded a fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion into how she died in her py­ja­mas late on Satur­day night.

Ms Da­mond had called for help af­ter hear­ing what po­lice said was “a pos­si­ble as­sault” in a lane out­side her home in south­west Min­neTHE apo­lis. She was killed at 11.30pm by at least one shot from the two of­fi­cers who re­sponded to the call.

Lo­cal me­dia re­ported she was still in her py­ja­mas and speak­ing through the door of their pa­trol car when she was shot.

The al­ley was de­scribed as well-lit, but ac­cord­ing to sources the of­fi­cer sit­ting in the pas­sen­ger seat pulled his gun and shot Ms Da­mond through the driver’s side door. No weapon was re­cov­ered at the scene.

It is un­der­stood the of­fi­cers’ body cam­eras were not turned on at the time and the po­lice car’s dash­board cam­era also did not cap­ture the in­ci­dent.

A crowd of more than 100 gath­ered at a vigil yes­ter­day to re­mem­ber the cor­po­rate speaker and med­i­ta­tion teacher, who moved from Syd­ney’s north­ern beaches three years ago and was to marry US busi­ness­man Don Da­mond, 50, next month.

“This woman was a beau­ti­ful light,” neigh­bour Bethany Bradley said.

“She was a healer, she was loved, she should be alive — she should still be here.”

Da­mond’s soon-to-be step­son Zach posted a poignant video about the mys­tery death of his “best friend”, a woman who had pre­vi­ously spo­ken out about Amer­ica’s gun cul­ture.

“Ba­si­cally my mum’s dead be­cause a po­lice of­fi­cer shot her for rea­sons I don’t know,” he said. “Amer­ica sucks.”

The two of­fi­cers in­volved in the shoot­ing were im­me­di­ately placed on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave while the lo­cal Bureau of Crim­i­nal Ap­pre­hen­sion in­ves­ti­gates.

Don Da­mond, the vi­cepres­i­dent of Lit­tle Six Casino, was away on busi­ness when his part­ner was mur­dered, and ar­rived at their home yes­ter­day af­ter­noon.

A fam­ily friend, who only wanted to be iden­ti­fied as Han­nah, de­scribed the cou­ple as “just so in love”.

Among the many ques­tions Da­mond’s fam­ily asked yes­ter­day were why the of­fi­cers’ cam­eras weren’t turned on. Ac­tivists were among the mourn­ers out­side the Da­mond home yes­ter­day, and they quickly linked her name with other high-pro­file vic­tims of po­lice shoot­ings.

Large love hearts were chalked onto the drive­way near where Da­mond fell, along with the names Ja­mar Clark and Phi­lando Castile, whose killings at the hands of po­lice sparked protests and marches.

Han­nah, 21, who said she

was a friend of Zach’s, echoed the ques­tions of many.

“I don’t know what she was do­ing out,” Han­nah told the Star Tri­bune news­pa­per.

“She’s such a kind woman. She took me in when I was in a tough sit­u­a­tion and helped me with what­ever I needed.”

She also said there was no way Ms Da­mond would have had a gun and that she had of­ten talked about how things were bet­ter in Aus­tralia be­cause of strict gun own­er­ship laws.

Zach Da­mond de­scribed his fu­ture step­mother — who had al­ready changed her sur­name on her busi­ness web­site ahead of her loom­ing wed­ding — as “a very pas­sion­ate woman”.

“I just know she heard a sound in the al­ley so then she called the po­lice and the cops showed up and she was a very pas­sion­ate woman,” he said. “She prob­a­bly thought some­thing bad was hap­pen­ing and then next thing I know they take my best friend’s life. “I de­mand an­swers.” At the Ruszczyk fam­ily home in Fresh­wa­ter yes­ter­day neigh­bour Julie Reed said Ms Da­mond’s rel­a­tives were yet to hear from the po­lice in Min­neapo­lis.

“This is a very dif­fi­cult time for the Ruszczyk fam­ily. They are try­ing to come to terms with this tragedy and to un­der­stand why this has hap­pened,” Ms Reed said.

“She was trea­sured and we will re­ally miss her. She was a vet­eri­nar­ian sur­geon, qual­i­fied, and she went over­seas and she worked spir­i­tu­ally to heal other peo­ple with their med­i­cal prob­lems in the United States.”

Syd­ney life­coach Alison van Vu­uren, who taught Ms Da­mond a form of coun­selling called EFT, said it was an “ab­so­lute tragedy”.

“I can’t get my mind around how that would have hap­pened,” she said.

“She prac­tised EFT to help other peo­ple re­lieve their own trauma and pain.”

Min­neapo­lis Mayor Betsy Hodges ques­tioned why the of­fi­cers’ cam­eras weren’t film­ing and vowed to get an­swers on be­half of Da­mond.

“As mayor of our city, a wife, and a grand­mother, I am heart­sick and deeply dis­turbed by what oc­curred last night,” she said.

‘There are still many ques­tions about what took place and, while the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is still in its early stages, I am ask­ing the BCA to re­lease as much in­for­ma­tion, as quickly as they are able to.”

Min­neapo­lis Po­lice Depart­ment pol­icy does not al­low for de­ac­ti­va­tion of po­lice body cam­eras “for an ar­rest, DUI, Use of Force, traf­fic stop or a ‘Sig­nif­i­cant In­ci­dent’.” The cam­eras are de­signed to ac­ti­vate au­to­mat­i­cally when of­fi­cers re­spond to an in­ci­dent.

This woman was a beau­ti­ful light. She was a healer, she was loved, she should be alive — she should still be here Neigh­bour Bethany Bradley

To most Aus­tralians, the re­cent surge in po­lice shoot­ings across the US was ob­vi­ously con­cern­ing but at the same time a re­mote is­sue, far from Aus­tralia’s shores. That view has changed now with the fa­tal shoot­ing by po­lice of Syd­ney woman Jus­tine Ruszczyk Da­mond in the sub­urb of Ful­ton, Min­neapo­lis. De­tails of ex­actly what oc­curred are still emerg­ing, but judg­ing by ini­tial ac­counts the 40-year-old who pre­vi­ously lived in Manly had done ev­ery­thing right in the min­utes be­fore the shoot­ing.

Ap­par­ently aware of a pos­si­ble as­sault near her home late on Satur­day night, Ms Ruszczyk Da­mond had called the US po­lice emer­gency line 911. Then, when a po­lice car ar­rived at the scene, Ms Ruszczyk Da­mond ap­proached the ve­hi­cle. She was wear­ing py­ja­mas and, ac­cord­ing to all cur­rent re­ports, pre­sented ab­so­lutely no threat at all to the two armed of­fi­cer.

In­deed, it seems that Ms Ruszczyk Da­mond was pre­cisely the op­po­site of threat­en­ing. She’d called po­lice to ac­tu­ally as­sist them.

Ac­cord­ing to US me­dia re­ports, Ms Ruszczyk Da­mond was shot by the of­fi­cer fur­thest from her, in the ve­hi­cle’s pas­sen­ger seat. A bul­let re­port­edly went through the driver’s side door be­fore fa­tally wound­ing her. It is not known what pro­voked the shot, if in fact any­thing did. For Ms Ruszczyk Da­mond’s step­son Zach, the mys­tery is un­der­stand­ably ag­o­nis­ing. “Ba­si­cally my mom’s dead be­cause a po­lice of­fi­cer shot her for rea­sons I don’t know,” Zach told a Min­neapo­lis news­pa­per.

“I de­mand an­swers. If any­body can help, just call po­lice and de­mand an­swers. I’m so done with all this vi­o­lence. Amer­ica sucks.”

Lo­cal civil rights at­tor­ney and po­lice re­form ac­tivist Nekima LevyPounds joined many in slam­ming Da­mond’s “tragic and sense­less death”, which Levy Pounds said “il­lus­trates ev­ery­thing that is wrong with our sys­tem of polic­ing in the US”.

“For years, ac­tivists and com­mu­nity mem­bers have raised con­cerns about the ‘shoot first, ask ques­tions later’ men­tal­ity among some po­lice of­fi­cers,” Levy-Pound con­tin­ued. “Be­yond that, po­lice of­fi­cers have rou­tinely es­caped ac­count­abil­ity for per­pet­u­at­ing vi­o­lence against civil­ians and have been al­lowed to kill with im­punity. Jus­tine Da­mond is the lat­est ca­su­alty of a flawed sys­tem of polic­ing that is ur­gently in need of be­ing over­hauled.”

As part of a re­sponse to con­cerns over shoot­ings, Min­neapo­lis po­lice were re­cently equipped with per­sonal body­cams. The two of­fi­cers in­volved in Satur­day night’s shoot­ing are said to have been wear­ing their cam­eras — but they were turned off dur­ing the fa­tal con­fronta­tion. There is clearly a great deal more to emerge from this seem­ingly in­ex­pli­ca­ble shoot­ing. Un­til ev­ery fact is avail­able, we can only share the pain and dis­tress ex­pressed by Min­neapo­lis mayor Betsy Hodges. “As mayor of our city, a wife, and a grand­mother, I am heart­sick and deeply dis­turbed by what oc­curred last night,” she wrote on­line.

Aus­tralian woman Jus­tine Ruszczyk Da­mond with fi­ance Don Da­mond, and (left) Zach Da­mond speaks out af­ter her death in a Face­book video.

(Clock­wise from above) a vigil for Ms Da­mond, po­lice at the scene, po­lice visit the vic­tim’s fam­ily in Fresh­wa­ter. 11.30pm: Two po­lice of­fi­cers re­spond in the al­ley off West 51st St be­tween Wash­burn and Xerxes Ave Satur­day night (lo­cal time): Syd­ney...

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