Australian woman shot and killed by police in Minneapolis

Case sends shockwaves up to Aussie Prime Ministers office

Stephen Govel Photography—Reuters
Justine Damond

MINNEAPOLIS — — An Australian woman was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer after calling 911 to report a possible nearby sexual assault over the weekend, authorities said. Without body or dashboard cameras on, the circumstances of the fatal shooting are still very murky and have sent shockwaves across the country and America’s ally down under.

Justine Damond, a Sydney native, made two 911 calls to help a nearby woman she thought was possibly being assaulted, according to transcripts released on Wednesday by police. In the calls to police, Damond reported hearing sounds of a woman screaming.

“I can hear someone out the back and I, I’m not sure if she’s having sex or being raped,” she told the 911 operator on the call at 11:27 pm. “And I think she just yelled out ‘help.'”

Damond called again at 11:35 pm, and was assured officers were on the way.

Officers Mohamed Noor and Matthew Harrity were driving through an alley searching for a suspect in the reported assault, the bureau said. At one point, Harrity told investigators he was startled by a loud sound near the patrol car.

Immediately afterward, Damond approached the driver’s side of the squad car and Noor, who was in the passenger seat, fired his weapon through the open driver’s-side window, striking Damond, the agency said.

The officers reportedly offered Damond immediate medical assistance, but she ultimately succumbed to the single gunshot wound.

Agents interviewed Harrity on Tuesday but Noor has declined to be interviewed. Noor’s lawyer, Tom Plunkett, did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. Harrity’s attorney, Fred Bruno, told the Star Tribune on Wednesday “it’s certainly reasonable” for the officers to fear they could be the target of a possible ambush. Bruno could not be reached for comment by Reuters.

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner has ruled the shooting a homicide. A spokeswoman for the office declined to say whether the office still has possession of the body or on funeral plans.

The death of the Australian native has sparked outrage among family members and the public, and led Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to call it “shocking” and “inexplicable.”

A man reacts near scattered flowers during a vigil for Justine Damond, who was shot by a Minneapolis police officer over the weekend, at Sydney’s Freshwater Beach in Australia, July 19, 2017. AAP/Dean Lewins via REUTERS

Damond’s father, John Ruszczyk, told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday that her death was “our worst nightmare.”

“Justine was a beacon to all of us. We only ask that the light of justice shine down on the circumstances of her death,” he said.

Justine Damond’s American fiance also wondered about the details of how she was shot. She had called the police to report a suspected sexual assault near her home, fiance Don Damond told reporters outside the home.

“We lost the dearest of people and we are desperate for information,” Damond said. “Piecing together Justine’s last moments before the homicide would be a small comfort as we grieve this tragedy.”

Don Damond is comforted by his son Zach Damond as he speaks to the media about his fiance, Justine Damond who was fatally shot by Minneapolis police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Adam Bettcher

The bureau said police body cameras were not turned on until after the shooting, which could have shed light on the incident. The squad car camera was also not turned on. They said the police would determine whether that violated any police policies.

Hundreds took to the streets of Minneapolis on Sunday to protest Damond’s shooting.

On Wednesday, Minnesota investigators said they are searching for a man spotted near the scene, hoping he may shed light on the murky circumstances of the killing. Officers said they spotted an 18-to-25-year-old white male bicycling in the area, just moments before Damond was shot and killed.

Damond, who was also known as Justine Ruszczyk, had taken the name of her fiance, Don Damond, ahead of their wedding. They were due to be married in August.

Chris Kenning, Todd Melby, Brendan O’Brien and Chris Michaud for Reuters News Service contributed to this article.