Australian woman 'didn't have to die': Minneapolis police chief

By Todd Melby

By Todd Melby

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - The chief of Minneapolis' police department said on Thursday the fatal shooting of an unarmed Australian woman by a junior police officer violated department training and procedures, and that the victim "didn’t have to die."

The death of Justine Damond, 40, from a single gunshot wound to the abdomen fired through an open window of a police patrol car, has outraged her relatives and the public in both Australia and the United States. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called it "shocking" and "inexplicable."

"Justine didn't have to die," Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau told reporters on Thursday in her first news conference about the shooting.

Harteau said she apologized to Damond's fiance for the loss of life, adding that the action taken by Officer Mohamed Noor, who fired the fatal shot, reflected "one individual's actions." She said the body cameras of the two officers on the scene should have been activated. There is no known video footage of the shooting.

Damond had called police about a possible sexual assault in her neighborhood just before midnight on Saturday.

Harteau's press conference came hours after an attorney who represented another police shooting victim in Minnesota said Damond's family had hired him.

The lawyer, Bob Bennett, reached a nearly $3 million settlement in June for the family of black motorist Philando Castile from the St. Paul, Minnesota, suburb of St. Anthony. Castile was shot and killed in July 2016 during a traffic stop.

"Usually people who call the police in their pajamas are not ambushers, especially spiritual healers and pacifists," Bennett said in a telephone interview. Damond owned a meditation and life-coaching company.

"You shouldn't shoot unarmed people who call the cops," Bennett said.

He added that the family would wait until officials complete their investigation of the shooting before deciding whether to file a civil lawsuit.

He said Damond's family had not yet made funeral arrangements but her body was still at the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office.

Officer Noor has refused to be interviewed by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is investigating the shooting. His attorney released a statement in which Noor expressed condolences to the Damond family, but declined to discuss the shooting.

Damond's death, the third at the hands of a Minnesota police officer in less than two years, also prompted comments by Michele Bachmann, a former Republican presidential candidate and U.S. representative from Minnesota.

Bachmann, speaking at a Republican hog roast in Waconia, Minnesota, on Wednesday, called Noor an "affirmative-action hire by the hijab-wearing mayor of Minneapolis," the Star Tribune reported. Noor is Somali-American.

However, Noor's ethnicity is irrelevant, said Abdirizak Bihi, director of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center in Minneapolis.

"This is racism. It's shifting responsibility to a small, marginalized community rather than the city being responsible," Bihi said.

The officer who shot Castile was acquitted in a manslaughter trial in June.


(Reporting by Todd Melby; editing by Grant McCool and Diane Craft)