The police chief in Minneapolis, speaking out for the first time Thursday, strongly criticized the actions of one of the city’s officers who fatally shot an unarmed Australian woman.
Chief Janee Harteau had been on vacation when Justine Damond was killed by an officer responding to her emergency call Saturday night of a possible assault near her home in the Midwestern US city.
As an international firestorm erupted following the shooting, the chief was struggling to return from a remote mountain location, she said. Appearing before the news media for the first time to address the incident, Harteau forcefully rejected the actions of Officer Mohamed Noor, who shot Damond.
“I believe the actions in question go against who we are as a department, how we train, and the expectations we have of our officers,” she said.
The chief’s comments were a striking departure from the measured responses of other police chiefs in the aftermath of similar high-profile shootings of civilians at the hands of US law enforcement.
Chiefs often ask for patience as investigators work to determine the full scope of what happened in each case.
Harteau defended the training her officers receive and said the shooting was a reflection on just one officer.
“I will do everything in my power to make sure that due process is followed and justice is served,” she said.
“The death of Justine should not have happened.”
The chief said her judgment on the issue was based on the limited information publicly released by state investigators, who are charged with probing police shootings.
Investigators have said one of the responding officers, Matthew Harrity, described being startled by a loud noise just before Damond approached the police car he was driving.
His partner Noor, who was in the passenger seat, shot Damond once in the abdomen and she died at the scene, authorities said.
Damond, a meditation instructor and life coach, had moved to the United States to marry her fiance Don Damond.
Her death has sent shockwaves from her neighborhood in Minneapolis all the way to her native Australia, where her family hoped to repatriate her body.
“All we want to do is bring Justine home to Australia,” the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper quoted the family as saying in a statement.
“We are still trying to come to terms with this tragedy and we are struggling to understand how and why this could happen.”
Harrity’s lawyer, Fred Bruno, suggested Wednesday that the officers may have feared an ambush — a claim the US-based attorney for the Damond family strongly rejected as “ludicrous.”
“She obviously was not armed, she was not a threat to anyone nor could she have reasonably been perceived to be,” attorney Bob Bennett said Wednesday in an interview with the local CBS TV station in Minneapolis.
In a statement released to AFP, Bennett’s law firm said the family wanted, among other things, “an unbiased, transparent investigation, necessary changes in police training, officer selection criteria and practice.”
The statement also said the family would seek “recompense,” but did not clarify what form such compensation might take.
Bennett recently represented the family of Philando Castile, the victim of another high-profile police shooting not far from Minneapolis.
Castile was shot and killed during a traffic stop last year after informing Officer Jeronimo Yanez that he was carrying a gun, for which he had a permit.
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