Grief and confusion are the result after Justine Damond, 40, was shot to death by a police officer in Minneapolis on Saturday. A native of Australia, Damond (nee Ruszczyk) was to marry her fiance in August.
Damond, who had already taken her fiance’s surname, called 911 on Saturday evening to report a possible assault in the alley behind her home. According to a release from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is the state agency investigating the shooting, two Minneapolis Police Department officers went to the alley near Damond’s home in the Fulton neighborhood on Minneapolis southwest side. According to the statement, “At one point an officer fired their weapon, fatally striking a woman.” The BCA offered few details about the moments before the shooting. However, it did admit that neither of the two officers had turned on their body-cams nor did their vehicle capture the shooting.
Officer Mohammed Noor, 31, has been named as the officer who allegedly shot Damond. He was the first Somali-American hired as an officer for the 5th Precinct of Minneapolis. He holds a degree in business and economics from Augusburg College. His appointment to the force was warmly greeted by the Somali community and the association of Somali-American cops.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said that he would decide whether Noor will be charged in the shooting rather than resorting to a grand jury. He said he believes Noor’s body camera should have been operating when the shooting occurred. “I do understand this, they were driving down an alley, the victim approached the car. That’s not necessarily a time you must, but frankly, I think it’s a time you should.”
BCA is looking for any other video that may be available. Once BCA’s investigation is complete, evidence will be provided to Hennepin County Attorney Michael O. Freeman to determine whether charges should be filed.
A distorted audio recording of the conversation between the police dispatcher and the officers has been uploaded to a website that monitor police scanners and posts online. On the audio can be heard the moments around the fatal shooting. It begins with one officer reporting a “female screaming behind the building”, who could be what Damond had reported earlier to the 911 center. The officers then communicated over the radio, requesting back-up. “Shots fired ... we have one down,” one of the officers says. The audio then records their frustrated efforts to revive Damond with CPR.
All Minneapolis police officers have worn body-cams since the end of 2016, according to the city. That policy came as a result after a black man, Philando Castile, was fatally shot to death by a police officer in the Twin Cities area last year. In that case, the officer was acquitted of killing the motorist and endangering the two other passengers in Castile’s car, who included an infant girl.
On Sunday, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges told a news conference, “We all want to know more; I want to know more.” She said: “I call on the BCA … to share as much information as they can as quickly as they possibly can.” Hodges called the shooting a “tragic incident” and wants to know why the responding officers had not engaged their body cameras. Writing on Facebook on Sunday night, Hodges wrote: “This is a tragedy — for the family, for a neighborhood I know well, and for our whole city. … There is a long road of healing ahead, and a lot of work remains to be done. I hope to help us along that path in any way I can.
The officers involved have been placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure in officer-involved shootings.
Mohamed Noor and community members
According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, when the officers pulled into the alley behind Damond’s home, Damond was wearing pyjamas when she approached the driver’s side door of the squad car and was talking in her driveway to the driver. The officer in the passenger seat allegedly shot Damond through the driver’s side door, striking Damond who was standing outside of the car, according to reports from the three people who contacted the newspaper.
In a post at the Women’s March Minnesota Facebook page, Zach Dimond -- son of the fiance -- wrote: “Basically, my mom’s dead because a police officer shot her for reasons I don’t know. I demand answers. If anybody can help, just call the police and demand answers. I’m so done with all this violence.”
He added: “America sucks. These cops need to get trained differently. I need to move out of here.”
Nancy Coune of the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community Center, where Damond worked as a speaker and meditation teacher for the last 2 1/2 years, described her as a “nonviolent” person. Coune told The Washington Post, “She’s not the type to provoke somebody. She would’ve maybe stepped in and helped somebody.” Coune added, “It’s quite unbelievable … She was sweet. She was beautiful. She was kind. She had a bright light about her. Everybody wanted to be her friend, and this happened to her? In a very low-crime-rate neighborhood? Nobody understands.”
Press release from the MN Bureau of Criminal Apprehension regarding the officer-involved shooting on the 5100 block of Washburn Ave. South. pic.twitter.com/wRR9sA3gbt— Minneapolis Police (@MinneapolisPD) July 16, 2017
In Damond’s native Australia, her death has become a top news story. Friends in Australia are shocked. “How someone teaching meditation and spreading love can be shot dead by police while in her pajamas is beyond comprehension,” Matt Omo told the Australia Broadcasting Corporation. According to Alisa Monaghan, Damond moved to the US “follow her heart” and find “new life,” the ABC reported.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which is providing consular assistance to Damond’s family, released a statement for the family, saying: “This is a very difficult time for our family. We are trying to come to terms with this tragedy and to understand why this has happened. We will not make any further comment or statement and ask that you respect our privacy. Thank you.”
Friends and family are demanding a federal investigation into her death, according to News.com.au reported.
At a Sunday night vigil, three mayoral candidates showed up, as well as NAACP officials and about 250 other friends, family and community members. “Many of us who have been on the front lines have been warning the public, saying if they would do this to our fathers and our sons and our brothers and our sisters and our mothers, they will do it to you next,” said Nekima Levy-Pounds, a mayoral candidate. “I really hope that this is a wake-up call for this community to stop allowing things to be divided on the lines of race and on the lines of socio-economic status.”