- Justine Ruszczyk Damond was shot by a policeman in Minneapolis after she called them on 911 after she thought she heard a woman being assaulted.
- The officer who fired the fatal shot has been charged with murder but plans to plead not guilty
- Her Sydney-based father has launched the $US50 million legal action.
Australian Justine Ruszczyk Damond’s family have begun legal action against the city of Minneapolis and several police officers over her shooting death last year, arguing her civil rights were violated.
Damond, 40, originally from Sydney, was due to marry US businessman Don Damond last August, and made a 911 call to police on July 15, 2017, concerned she could hear a woman who sounded like she was being sexually assaulted.
The two officers arrived at the scene in a squad car three minutes later. Damond, in her pyjamas and unarmed, was shot as she approached the police car and died.
An investigation into her death was hampered by the fact that neither officer had their body camera on until after the shooting and the police car camera was also off.
Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, who fired the fatal bullet, has been charged with murder and manslaughter. He is currently out on bail awaiting trial and will plead not guilty, arguing that he used “reasonable force”. Noor did not speak with investigators about what happened.
US District Court lawsuit is seeking $67 million ($US50 million) in damages, alleging Damond’s civil rights were violated and that Noor was unfit for duty and then with fellow officer Matthew Harrity, conspired to cover up what occurred.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Damond’s father, John Ruszczyk, has launched the lawsuit, which seeks the damages in four claims. His lawyer, Robert Bennett, previously sued the city over the 2016 shooting of black motorist Philando Castile by police, reaching a $4.06 million settlement.
Announcing the suit in the US on Monday, Bennett said 35 officers had refused to cooperate with the county attorney’s investigation into the shooting, saying it was a case “full of conspiracy”.
“That’s unheard of,” he said. “It’s well established the blue wall of silence exists in Minneapolis.”
The lawsuit alleges Noor’s squad car partner Harrity was involved in a “conspiracy to cover up the true facts surrounding the killing of Justine”.
They failed to activate their cameras, the lawsuit alleges, “to insulate any lies they might later tell”.
The statement claims the footage would have resulted in “evidence that would incriminate Noor, evidence that would expose the false statements of Harrity, and evidence that would show the public and the jurors in both the criminal and civil trials the truth of the circumstances of Justine’s death”.
The suit also says the city had cut back on testing to determine whether officers were fit for duty.
“The consequence is that certain MPD officers are ill-prepared, ill-equipped and unfit to perform obvious and recurring duties of police officers, including the use of force and the use of deadly force,” it says.
Damond’s fiance, Don Damond is not part of the lawsuit because of local law, but issued a statement saying the case “sends an unmistakable message to the Minneapolis Police Department: Seismic change is needed.”
“Although nothing can bring Justine back, I hope her legacy will help lead to a complete transformation of police culture and training in Minneapolis and all communities,” he said.
After the shooting, Minneapolis police chief Janee Harteau said “Justine didn’t have to die” and the shooting “should not have happened”.
She subsequently resigned after the mayor said he’d lost confidence in the city’s top cop.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune has more here.
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