Probe into fatal US police shooting of Australian woman

The probe into the fatal shooting of an Australian woman over the weekend by Minneapolis police who she called to report a strange noise behind her home turned on Monday to why the officers' body cameras were not on at the time.
Justine Damond, also known as Justine Ruszczyk, from Sydney, is seen in this 2015 photo.
Justine Damond, also known as Justine Ruszczyk, from Sydney, is seen in this 2015 photo. PHOTO: REUTERS/STEPHEN GOVEL

CHICAGO (AFP) - Authorities in the US state of Minnesota on Monday (July 17) were investigating the police-involved shooting of an Australian woman, who was killed under mysterious circumstances after placing an emergency call.

Justine Damond was fatally shot by one of two responding officers Saturday (July 15) night, after she called 911 to report a possible assault in an alleyway in her Minneapolis neighbourhood.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which investigates all officer-involved shootings in the state, would not say what precipitated the shooting. The officers' body cameras were not activated during the incident, authorities said.

"The BCA's investigation is in its very early stages," the agency said in a Sunday (July 16) news release. "More information will be available once initial interviews with incident participants and any witnesses are complete."

The BCA did not respond Monday to a request for comment.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune, citing three anonymous sources, reported that one of the pair of responding officers shot a pajama-wearing Damond through the window of the police car, after she had approached the driver's side window to talk to the other officer.

"I am heartsick and deeply disturbed," Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said at a Sunday news conference.

"We have few facts at this point," she said. "We all want to know more."

Hodges was particularly interested in finding out why the officers' body cameras were not turned on during the fatal encounter. All Minneapolis police are outfitted with the cameras.

Local TV station WCCO identified the officer who fired his weapon as Mohammed Noor, who joined the force in 2015 as the first member of the state's sizeable Somali immigrant community to become an officer in Minneapolis' fifth police district, where the shooting occurred.

Australian media and friends described Damond as a 40-year-old yoga and meditation instructor, who had moved from Sydney to Minneapolis to marry her fiancee Don Damond. A man who identified himself as Damond's stepson said she was killed after calling police to report a possible crime.

CALL FOR HELP

"She heard a sound in the alley, so then she called the police and the cops showed up," Zach Damond said in a Facebook posting. "And then, next thing I know they take my best friend's life."

Hundreds gathered in Damond's neighborhood Sunday demanding answers.

"Justine should be here. This should not have happened," Bethany Bradley told the gathering. "And no one's saying anything."

"A woman should not call for help and end up murdered," she said.

The incident is the latest questionable police-involved shooting to rock Minnesota.

The fatal shooting of motorist Philando Castile last year during a traffic stop sparked outrage and protests. Police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of manslaughter in the case. Castile's family received a US$3 million (S$4m) settlement to avoid a federal civil rights lawsuit.