21 Mar 2018

US officer charged over shooting death of Australian

10:17 am on 21 March 2018

A Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed unarmed Australian woman Justine Damond in July last year has turned himself in on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Justine Damond

Justine Damond Photo: Justine Ruszczyk / LinkedIn via ABC

Mohamed Noor shot Ms Damond, a 40-year-old life coach, on 15 July, minutes after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home.

Her death drew international attention, cost the police chief her job and forced major revisions to the department's policy on body cameras.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman is to hold a news conference this morning to discuss the charges.

Mr Noor has been booked on a third-degree murder charge for perpetrating an eminently dangerous act while showing a "depraved mind".

The second-degree manslaughter charge alleges he acted with "culpable negligence creating unreasonable risk".

If convicted of third-degree murder, he could face a maximum of 25 years in prison, though the presumptive sentence is 12 and a half years.

His lawyer, Thomas Plunkett, confirmed Mr Noor turned himself in, but had no other immediate comment.

The second-degree manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, but the presumptive sentence is four years.

Mr Noor has not spoken publicly about the case and declined to answer questions from investigators.

Ms Damond's father, John Ruszcyzk, and her fiance, Don Damond, issued a joint statement on behalf of both families, saying they applauded the decision to charge Mr Noor "as one step toward justice for this iniquitous act".

They said they were pleased that the investigation appeared diligent and thorough, and they hoped for a conviction.

"No charges can bring our Justine back," the statement said.

"However, justice demands accountability for those responsible for recklessly killing the fellow citizens they are sworn to protect, and today's actions reflect that."

A policeman who was with Mr Noor at the time of the shooting, Matthew Harrity, told investigators that he was startled by a loud noise right before Ms Damond approached the driver's side window of their police car.

Mr Harrity, who was driving, said Mr Noor then fired his weapon from the passenger seat.

Ms Damond died of a gunshot wound to the abdomen.

Lack of video evidence criticised

The officers did not turn on their body cameras until after the shooting, and there was no squad camera video of the incident.

The lack of video was widely criticised, and Ms Damond's family members were among the many people who called for changes in procedure, including how often officers are required to turn on their cameras.

The shooting also prompted questions about the training of Mr Noor, a two-year veteran and Somali-American whose arrival on the force had been celebrated by city leaders and Minnesota's large Somali community.

Mr Noor, 32, had trained in business and economics and worked in property management before becoming an officer.

Then-chief Janee Harteau defended Mr Noor's training and said he was suited to be on the street, even as she criticised the shooting itself.

But Ms Harteau - who was on holidays when the shooting happened and did not make her first public appearance until several days after the shooting - was forced out soon after by Mayor Betsy Hodges, who said she had lost confidence in the chief.

Ms Harteau's replacement, Medaria Arradondo, quickly announced a policy change requiring officers to turn on their body cameras in responding to any call or traffic stop.

Mr Noor has been on paid leave since the shooting.