US police shot woman dead 'after she reported a sexual assault'

Relatives of an Australian woman shot dead by US police have said she made an emergency call to report a sexual assault before the incident.

They demanded answers about the mysterious shooting in which the meditation teacher was reportedly killed by an officer who fired from the passenger seat of a squad car as the victim stood outside the driver's door.

The authorities in Minneapolis released no details about what led to the shooting of Justine Damond, whose fiance said she had called 911 to report what she believed was a sexual assault in an alley near her home.

Police said officers were responding to a call about a possible assault late on Saturday when she was killed. There were no known witnesses other than the two officers in the squad car.

A newspaper report said Ms Damond was shot while standing alongside the car in her pajamas.

Her fiance, Don Damond, said the family has been given almost no additional information about what happened after police arrived.

"We've lost the dearest of people, and we're desperate for information," he said. "Piecing together Justine's last moments before the homicide would be a small comfort as we grieve this tragedy."

Ms Damond's family members in Australia said they "are trying to come to terms with this tragedy and to understand why this has happened".

Authorities did not release the woman's name, but the Star Tribune identified her as Ms Damond, from Sydney, Australia. The newspaper reported that she was engaged to be married in August and was using her fiance's last name. Her maiden name was Justine Ruszczyk.

Almost two days after her death, police offered no public explanation and referred questions to the state's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which was investigating.

The BCA said on Monday that no weapons were found at the scene.

Local media identified the officer who fired as Mohamed Noor, who is a Somali-American and joined the police department in March 2015.

His lawyer, Tom Plunkett, released a statement saying Mr Noor offered his condolences to the family "and keeps them in his daily thoughts and prayers".

The statement added: "He joined the police force to serve the community and to protect the people he serves. Officer Noor is a caring person with a family he loves, and he empathises with the loss others are experiencing."

The Star Tribune, citing three people with knowledge of the shooting it did not name, said the officers pulled into the alley in a squad car, and Ms Damond talked to the driver.

The newspaper's sources said the officer in the passenger seat shot Ms Damond through the driver's-side door.

Neighbour Joan Hargrave called the killing "an execution" and said there was no reason for a well-trained officer to see Ms Damond as a threat.

"This is a tragedy - that someone who's asking for help would call the police and get shot by the police," Ms Hargrave said.

Officials said the officers' body cameras were not turned on and that a squad car camera did not capture the shooting.

It's not clear why the officers' body cameras were not turned on. The department has phased in body cameras for all of its officers over the last year.

Police Chief Janee Harteau called the killing a "tragic death" and said she understands why the community has questions.

"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.

Some 50 friends and neighbours gathered on Sunday near the shooting site, with many more looking on from the pavement and street. Chalk hearts containing the names of people who were victims of police violence were drawn on the driveway.

By Monday, flowers had also been left at the scene.

Ms Damond's death is yet another high-profile police shooting in the Twin Cities area in recent years. Last year, 32-year-old Philando Castile was killed by an officer during a traffic stop in a nearby suburb after he told the officer he was armed.

And in November 2015, a Minneapolis police officer shot and killed Jamar Clark during a struggle in which the officer said Mr Clark grabbed his partner's weapon.

Ms Damond's business website indicates that she relocated to Minneapolis and worked as a yoga instructor, meditation teacher and personal health and life coach.

Her mother was Australian, and she spent her formative years there, but also spent some of her early childhood in the Buffalo, New York, area, said Peter Suffoletto, a cousin of Ms Damond's father.

AP


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