US police officer charged with murder of Australian woman | News | DW | 21.03.2018
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US police officer charged with murder of Australian woman

The police shooting in Minneapolis was condemned in Australia, where Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull labeled it "shocking" and "inexplicable." The victim's family supported the charges as "one step toward justice."

A police officer in the US state of Minnesota who fatally shot an unarmed Australian woman in July 2017 was arrested on Tuesday and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Read more: Australian Justine Damond's fatal shooting by Minneapolis police 'inexplicable'

Thirty-two year old former officer Mohamed Noor turned himself in to authorities and now faces charges carrying up to 25 years in prison.

On the night of her death, Justine Ruszczyk Damond, an Australian yoga and meditation teacher living in the Fulton neighborhood of Minneapolis, had called emergency services on 911 to report a possible sexual assault near her home. Noor and his fellow officer Matthew Harrity arrived at the scene and were sitting in their police car when Damond approached them.

Soon after, Officer Noor drew his weapon and Damond was fatally shot in the abdomen. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman described the events at a news conference announcing the charges, saying that Noor acted "recklessly and intentionally" when firing his gun.

Read more: US probe slams Chicago police for 'use of excessive force'

"From the short time between when Ms Ruszczyk Damond approached the squad car, to the time that Officer Noor fired the fatal shot, there is no evidence that Officer Noor encountered a threat, appreciated a threat, investigated a threat or confirmed a threat that justified his decision to use deadly force," Freeman said.

Noor has reportedly refused to cooperate with investigators. In response to the murder charge, his lawyer Tom Plunkett argued that prosecutor Freeman had jumped to conclusions on the case.

"The facts will show that Officer Noor acted as he has been trained and consistent with established departmental policy. Officer Noor should not have been charged with any crime," attorney Plunkett said in a statement.

Justine Damond Ruszczyk in New York (Reuters/Stephen Govel Photography)

Justine Damond Ruszczyk

Domestic and international controversy

The shooting was condemned in Minnesota and also in Australia, where local officials and Ruszczyk Damond's  family demanded answers. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called the events "shocking" and "inexplicable."

Then-Minneapolis police chief Janee Harteau had to resign over her handling of the case. City officials decried that procedures had been violated, as many questioned why the officers did not have their body cameras on at the moment of the incident.

The victim's fiance, Don Damond, and her father, John Ruszczyk, issued a joint statement in response to the murder charges, which they saw as "one step toward justice for this iniquitous act." They praised the decision and hoped that it would result in a conviction.

"No charges can bring our Justine back. However, justice demands accountability for those responsible for recklessly killing the fellow citizens they are sworn to protect," they said in the statement.

Read more: US police say black shootings, protests make job riskier and more difficult

Somali community supports charges

Minnesota is home to a large community of Somali immigrants, of which Mohamed Noor is a part. After the shooting, the community feared possible reprisals.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey expressed his support to both the victim's family and the Somali community. "Our city stands firmly with our Somali community and against those leveling blame on our beloved neighbors," the mayor said.

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that the Minnesota Somali community supported the charges leveled against Noor.

Hussain added that he hoped the charges were based on the "heinousness of the crime" and not on officer Mohamed Noor's ethnicity.

jcg/se (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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