19 Jul 2017

Body cameras not used in fatal US police shooting

2:16 pm on 19 July 2017

Questions are being raised by officials about why a police officer who shot an Australian woman did not record the fatal incident.

Justine Damond

Justine Damond died earlier this week after being shot by a police officer. Photo: Justine Ruszczyk / LinkedIn via ABC

Justine Damond, 40, was gunned down on Saturday after calling police to report a possible crime in her quiet Minneapolis neighbourhood.

State investigators said the officers whom she encountered failed to activate their body or dashboard cameras.

Every police officer and squad car in Minneapolis is equipped with cameras.

"I have the same questions everyone else does. Why weren't the police cameras on?" mayor Betsy Hodges said on Tuesday.

Minneapolis police are required to switch on their body cameras only during certain encounters, unlike in Los Angeles or Washington DC, where cameras must be switched on for any response to a call for service.

Instead, there are more than a dozen situations in which cameras should be used, according to the police manual, which adds that failure to use the camera could result in job termination.

"If a BWC [body-worn camera] is not activated prior to a use of force, it shall be activated as soon as it is safe to do so," reads the manual.

Local media reported that Ms Damond was dressed in her pyjamas and had approached the driver's side door to talk to the officer at the wheel after police arrived.

Officer Mohamed Noor, who was sitting in the passenger seat, fired his weapon across his partner and through the driver's door, striking Ms Damond in the abdomen.

Her fiancé, Don Damond, said on Monday that the family is "desperate" for answers from officials.

Speaking in Sydney, her father John Ruszczyk said: "Justine was a beacon to all of us, we only ask that the light of justice shine down on the circumstances of her death."

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said he will personally decide whether to charge Officer Mohamed Noor, rather than put the question to a grand jury. And he also questioned why the cameras were not turned on.

Officer Noor, who has been described by local media as a Somali-American, has been with the police force for two years.

A statement from his lawyer said he had arrived in the US "at a young age" and described him as "a caring person with a family he loves and he empathised with the loss others are experiencing".

But KSTP-TV, citing city records, reports that in two years of policing the officer had attracted three formal complaints, two of which remain unresolved.

Sources say his partner who was at the scene is Matthew Harrity, 25, who joined the force last year.

A police radio recording from the incident was released on Tuesday, in which officers at the scene can be heard telling dispatchers they are performing CPR, and that "no suspects are at large".

Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau called Ms Damond's death "tragic" in a statement on Monday.

"I've asked for the investigation to be expedited to provide transparency and to answer as many questions as quickly as we can," she said in her first comments on the killing.

The two officers involved in the shooting are on paid administrative leave.

Ms Damond, nee Justine Ruszczyk, studied to be a veterinarian before relocating from Sydney to the US, where she is believed to have been for at least the last three years.

According to her website, she was a "qualified yoga instructor, a personal health and life coach and meditation teacher".

Over the past few years the US has seen a series of civilian killings at the hands of police that have prompted a national debate.