Justine Damond ‘didn’t have to die’, says Minneapolis police chief

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Janee Harteau distances herself from actions of officer Mohamed Noor in shooting of Australian woman in Minnesota

The Minneapolis police chief has said the fatal shooting of Australian woman Justine Damond shouldnt have happened and that it was the result of the actions and the flawed judgment of one officer.

The death of Damond, 40, who was fired at multiple times through the open window of a police patrol car, has outraged her relatives and the public in both Australia and the United States. The Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, called it shocking and inexplicable.

The police chief, Janee Harteau, who was on leave at the time of the shooting last week, distanced the police department from the actions of officer Mohamed Noor in her first public comments on the matter. Her press conference also followed the release a statement by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension [BCA] on the investigation on Thursday.

Justine didnt have to die. Based on the publicly released information from the BCA [Bureau of Criminal Apprehension], this should not have happened, Harteau said.

On our squad cars you will find the words, To protect with courage and serve with compassion. This did not happen. Having the information that is publicly available right now recognising theres an open BCA investigation.

Harteau said Noors shooting of Lamond, who had called 911 to report a possible sexual assault and was in her pyjamas when she approached the squad car and was shot multiple times, go against who we are as a department, how we train and the expectations we have for our officers.

Harteau also questioned the training and body camera procedures that the police department had in place. We had the cameras for about eight months, so its not second nature for officers to put those cameras on yet, she said.

Flowers
Flowers are placed at a memorial for Justine Damond on the steps of the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community church in south Minneapolis. Photograph: Aaron Lavinsky/AP

Which is why we want to do everything we can in training and in policy to ensure that theyre put on before an officer arrives at the scene, because one can never predict when something is going to happen.

Harteau said she had spoken to Damons family and fiance, Don Damond, on Thursday morning.

I told him I was sorry for his loss and that this did not have to happen, Harteau said.

Don expressed the concern and fear our community may have in calling 911. Although disheartening, I understand the fear and why it exists.

This has had a negative impact on the community trust we have built.

Justine
Justine Damond and her partner Don Damond. Photograph: Facebook

Responding to a question from a reporter that it was rare for a police chief to publicly disown an officer under investigation, Harteau acknowledged it was unusual but said each situation is different, and when information has been made public, I certainly can speak on what the public knows.

Noor should have had his body camera activated and the department was working on ways to ensure cameras are on when they should be, such as automatically turning on recording when a gun is drawn, she said.

Noor has refused to speak to investigators, which Harteau said was his constitutional right.

In response to a question from another reporter citing speculation that Noor was an affirmative action hire and did not receive adequate police training, Harteau said: Its not about race or ethnicity. We have a very robust training and hiring process. This officer completed that training, very well, just like every officer, he was very suited to be on the street.

Harteaus press conference came hours after a lawyer who represented another police shooting victim in Minnesota said Damonds family had hired him.

The lawyer, Bob Bennett, reached a nearly $3m 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 pyjamas are not ambushers, especially spiritual healers and pacifists, Bennett said in a telephone interview. Damond owned a meditation and life-coaching company.

You shouldnt 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 Damonds family had not yet made funeral arrangements but her body was still at the Hennepin county medical examiners office.

Damonds 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 US 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, Noors ethnicity is irrelevant, said Abdirizak Bihi, director of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center in Minneapolis.

This is racism. Its shifting responsibility to a small, marginalised community rather than the city being responsible, Bihi said.

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

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/21/justine-damond-didnt-have-to-die-says-minneapolis-police-chief

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