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 Tuesday with murder, in a case that sparked an international outcry.

Mohamed Noor shot Justine Damond, a 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, who is Somali American, was charged with 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 in Damond's native Australia. The 40-year-old had moved to the US to marry her fiancee whose name she had already legally adopted. Her maiden name was Ruszczyk.

Damond's Australian relatives and the country's prime minister demanded answers -- and protests in Minneapolis led to the resignation of the city's police chief.

The shooting also raised concerns among the Midwestern city's Somali American community, with worries about a possible backlash.

"Our city stands firmly with Justine's family, and hope they find piece in a time of grief," Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said following the charges.

"Our city stands firmly with our Somali community and against those leveling blame on our beloved neighbors," the mayor added.

The police department said Tuesday was Noor's last day on the force, but would not elaborate on whether the officer resigned or was fired.

- Uncooperative officer -

Noor refused to cooperate with investigators.

His lawyer responded to the charges by claiming the prosecutor had jumped to conclusions.

"The facts will show that Officer Noor acted as he has been trained and consistent with established departmental policy. Officer Noor should not have been charged with any crime," attorney Tom Plunkett said in a statement.

The prosecutor said his eight-month investigation had constructed a detailed account of the events -- laid out in a charging document filed in state court.

Damond had called police twice to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home.

Noor and fellow officer Matthew Harrity responded, drove through the alley at a slow pace, and as they reached the end of the alley, Noor reported back an all-clear signal.

The officers were preparing to drive away when they heard a noise that startled them, the court filing said, causing Harrity to believe "his life was in danger."

"Officer Harrity heard a voice, a thump somewhere behind him on the squad car, and caught a glimpse of a person's head and shoulders outside his window," according to the criminal complaint.

Noor then shot out the driver's side window of the squad car, striking Damond in the abdomen.

"Ms Damond Ruszczyk put her hands on the wound on her left side and said 'I'm dying,' or 'I'm dead,'" Freeman said.

She died at the scene.

The prosecutor alleged Noor's actions went against his training.

"A person sitting 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."