Family of Australian killed by US police demands answers

Don Damond hugs a neighbour after reading a statement about his fiance, Justine Damond who was fatally shot by Minneapolis police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, US, on July 17, 2017.
Don Damond hugs a neighbour after reading a statement about his fiance, Justine Damond who was fatally shot by Minneapolis police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, US, on July 17, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

CHICAGO (AFP) - The family of an Australian woman shot dead by US police after making an emergency call to them is complaining that authorities have pretty much left them in the dark as to how it happened.

Justine Damond was killed Saturday (July 15) night by a police officer responding to her emergency call of a possible assault in an alleyway near her home in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is investigating the shooting, has said little about the case, even as demands for answers intensified.

The bureau said it plans to release more information after interviewing the two officers involved in the incident.

The medical examiner's office conducting the autopsy said Damond, a 40-year-old meditation and life coach who had moved to Minneapolis to marry her fiancee, died of a gunshot wound to the abdomen.

She called police to report "what she believed was an active sexual assault occurring nearby," her fiancee Don Damond told a news conference Monday (July 17).

 

"Sadly, her family and I have been provided with almost no additional information from law enforcement regarding what happened after police arrived," Damond said.

Investigators found no weapons at the scene of the shooting, confirming reports that Damond was unarmed, according to the BCA.

'SO MANY QUESTIONS'

"I understand why so many people have so many questions at this point," Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau said Monday night in her first public statement about the case.

"I have many of the same questions and it is why we immediately asked for an external and independent investigation into the officer-involved shooting death," she said, adding that she has asked for the probe to be expedited.

Damond was reportedly shot while in her pajamas, after walking to the driver's side of a police car to talk to one of two responding officers, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper, which quoted three anonymous sources.

In addition to why she was shot, authorities are probing why the officers' body cameras were turned off during the incident. All Minneapolis police are outfitted with such cameras.

The officer who shot Damond was identified as Mohamed Noor, a 31-year-old Somali-American who joined the force in 2015. His attorney Tom Plunkett released a statement saying the officer took "these events very seriously because, for him, being a police officer is a calling."

"He joined the police force to serve the community and to protect the people he serves. Officer Noor is a caring person with a family he loves and he empathises with the loss others are experiencing," Plunkett said.

The officer cannot say more about the case due to the investigation that is underway, the attorney added.

The weekend shooting was the latest involving police that has rocked the US Midwestern state of 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, prompting renewed demonstrations.

Castile's family received a US$3 million (S$4m) settlement to avoid a federal civil rights lawsuit.