With body cameras off, Minneapolis cop shoots and kills woman who called to report assault

Authorities haven’t yet disclosed why an officer opened fire.

CREDIT: Justine Damond’s website
CREDIT: Justine Damond’s website

Shortly before midnight on Saturday, a Minneapolis police officer shot and killed a woman who called 911 to report an assault in an alley behind her home. It remains unclear why the officer opened fire.

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, an officer in the passenger seat of the squad car that responded to the call shot across the driver’s seat and struck 40-year-old Justine Damond while she spoke with them. Damond’s name hasn’t yet been released by authorities, but her identity has been confirmed by people in the south Minneapolis neighborhood where she lived with her fiance.

Last year, the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) implemented a body camera policy requiring officers to activate cameras in when responding to calls like Damond’s. But in a press release, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said that “[t]he officers’ body cameras were not turned on at the time and the squad camera did not capture the incidents. Investigators are attempting to determine whether any video of the incident exists.”

During a news conference on Sunday, an MPD assistant chief referred questions about why the officers’ body cameras weren’t on to the bureau investigating the shooting, while Mayor Betsy Hodges said she’s “deeply disturbed by the whole incident.”

“I share the same questions other people have about why we don’t have body cam footage of it, and I hope to get answers to that in the days coming,” Hodges said. “I know that body camera footage has already been useful to this department in myriad ways, and will be again in the future.”

On Facebook, Hodges connected Damond’s death to the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark in November 2015. Clark was unarmed when he was shot by a Minneapolis cop, sparking weeks of protest.

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According to various reports, Damond — who was originally from Australia — worked as a yoga and meditation instructor. In a Facebook video, her stepson, Zach Damond, said, “My mom’s dead because a police officer shot her for reasons I don’t know… I guess she thought that something bad was happening and, next thing I know, they take my best friend’s life.”

Last Wednesday, Minnesota’s KSTP TV published an investigation indicating Minneapolis police officers aren’t using body cameras as much as they should. One city council member interviewed by KSTP said he’s concerned about low body cam usage and plans to seek an explanation from the MPD.

More than 520 people have been shot and killed by police officers in America so far this year, according to the Washington Post, compared with 963 over the entirety of 2016.

The shooting of Damond was the second consecutive Saturday that the MPD’s use of force raised serious concerns. On July 8, a Minneapolis cop was recorded on a surveillance camera shooting two dogs while responding to a burglary call. A police report claimed the Shaffordshire terriers — both of whom survived — “charged at [the] officer.” But the surveillance footage indicates that never happened.

In a statement following that incident, Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau didn’t criticize the officer’s conduct, but said the department “will be implementing mandatory training specifically for officers identifying effective tools and tactical strategies with police and dog encounters.”

UPDATE (12:45 p.m.): The officer who shot and killed Damond has been identified as Mohamed Noor. Noor joined the force in March 2015 and became the first Somali officer to patrol southwest Minneapolis.

Authorities have yet to release any information about the chain of events culminating in Damond’s death. KSTP TV reports that a “source with direct knowledge of the shooting said Monday that the woman was shot multiple times.”