US officer charged with murder of unarmed Australian woman


Chicago (AFP)

A police officer in the US state of Minnesota who shot dead an unarmed Australian woman last July was charged on Tuesday with murder, in a case that sparked an international outcry.

Mohamed Noor shot Justine Damond, a 40-year-old resident of the city of Minneapolis, after she called to report a possible rape in the evening hours, and approached the police car that had arrived to investigate.

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

"Instead, Officer Noor recklessly and intentionally fired his handgun from the passenger seat, in disregard for human life."

Noor was charged with counts of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, which respectively carry sentences of up to 25 years, and up to 10 years.

The shooting caused outrage in the United States and abroad, with Damond's relatives and Australia's prime minister demanding answers -- and protests in Minneapolis leading to the resignation of the city's police chief.

Noor refused to cooperate with investigators. A grand jury indictment was sealed until the officer's arrest, Freeman said.

The prosecutor said his eight-month investigation had constructed a detailed account of the events that led to the shooting.

On that night, Noor had reported that he and a fellow officer looked into the emergency call, and reported back an all-clear, when they heard a loud noise that startled them, the prosecutor said.

Noor then shot out the driver's side window of the squad car and hit Damond, who had moved from Australia to the United States to marry her fiance, Freeman said.

"A person seating in a passenger's seat of the squad car takes a gun... he reaches across in front of his partner, shoots a gun at an object that he can't see," Freeman said.

"What we're saying with this charge is that Officer Noor did not act reasonably."