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1 Dec, 2017 19:36

Months after she was shot by police, Justine Damond’s family is still waiting for justice

Months after she was shot by police, Justine Damond’s family is still waiting for justice

Investigators still have not spoken to the police officer who shot dead an Australian-American woman while responding to her 911 call in Minneapolis, Minnesota, five months ago.

The investigation into the shooting death of Justine Damond was being conducted by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) before the case was submitted to the Hennepin County Attorney’s office for possible criminal charges against Mohamed Noor, the Minneapolis police officer who fired the fatal shot.

Noor, 32, has refused to answer investigators’ questions over what caused him to fire his weapon at Damond, reportedly citing the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution.

Justine Damond was a 40-year-old yoga instructor and life coach from Sydney's Northern Beaches. She was shot and killed behind her Minneapolis home on the night of July 15. Noor and his partner, Matthew Harrity, responded to her emergency call about a possible sexual assault in the back alley. Her death sparked international outrage, and led to the resignation of Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau.

Damond was standing outside the squad car next to Harrity, who was in the driver’s seat, when Noor fired his weapon from the passenger side of the vehicle. There have been conflicting reports on how many times Damond was shot. The officers attempted CPR, but Damond died 20 minutes later.  Both officers had their body cameras switched off.

Investigators were looking for an unidentified witness, a cyclist, who stopped nearby while the officers administered CPR. They subsequently interviewed him and the witness is said to have recorded some portion of the incident. They also interviewed Harrity, 25.

According to KMSP, the attorney’s office has asked its own investigators, five sworn Hennepin County Sheriff’s detectives, to join BCA investigators in seeking interviews with Minneapolis police who responded to the emergency call.

In an interview with the ABC's “Australian Story” on November 20, Damond's father, John Ruszczyk, said that her family is yet to hear whether the Minnesota state prosecutor will pursue legal action against Officer Noor, or a civil court case will need to be launched.

"Somebody took my daughter's life for no reason and I think that's a crime, and I'd like to see him in court," Ruszczyk said. "If [the State prosecutor] decides not to charge him, then the civil case that we want to bring will start earlier."

Despite the public outpouring of anger following Damond's death, Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter Jennifer Bjorhus told 'Australian Story' that when it comes to deaths in Minnesota at the hands of police, criminal prosecutions of officers are rare.

"[From] a database of all of the deaths in our state since 2000... we found that, excluding police car chases, police had killed 162 people. Most of these people were shot," she said. "As far as we know, in recent history, no officer in our state has ever been criminally prosecuted for shooting and killing someone in the line of duty. So, what's your best guess on what the charge might be in Justine's case?"

Several of the officers are now seeking legal counsel before agreeing to an interview, according to KMSP.

It has been 137 days since Noor shot and killed Damond. The nearby Ramsey County took 133 days before charging Officer Jeronimo Yanez with second degree manslaughter in the 2016 killing of Philando Castile, an African-American motorist. Yanez was acquitted in June.