US police may have feared ambush in shooting Australian

Flowers and signs memorialising Justine Damond are placed on the stairs of the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community centre on July 18, 2017 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Scrutiny intensified into the death of Justine Damond, who was killed late Saturday by a police officer responding to her emergency call of a possible assault in an alleyway near her home in Minneapolis, Minnesota. / AFP PHOTO / STEPHEN MATUREN

The lawyer for one of two Minneapolis police officers involved in the shooting death of an unarmed Australian woman said Wednesday that they may have feared an ambush.

Justine Damond was killed Saturday night when approaching a police car, after she had placed an emergency call reporting a possible rape taking place near her home in Minnesota.

One of the responding officers, Matthew Harrity, told investigators he had been startled by a loud noise just before the 40-year-old woman approached the car and his partner Mohamed Noor fired the deadly shot, authorities said.

Harrity’s lawyer on Wednesday left open the possibility that the officers had feared an ambush, telling the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper that a similar scenario had recently played out in New York.

“It’s certainly reasonable to assume that any police officer would be concerned about a possible ambush under these circumstances,” the newspaper quoted attorney Fred Bruno as saying.

Bruno did not return calls seeking comment.

In the New York incident, a mentally ill man shot and killed officer Miosotis Familia while she was sitting in her vehicle with her partner on July 4.

The Minneapolis officers are both on standard administrative leave, pending the outcome of the probe. Noor has declined to speak with investigators.

If charges are warranted, it could be months before Hennepin County officials have all the evidence to file them, said spokesman Chuck Laszewski.

“That has been the history,” Laszewski told AFP. “It’s taken two to four months from the time of the incident.”

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the state agency in charge of investigating police shootings, told AFP it did not intend to release any further information for the time being.

As the investigation continued, Minneapolis police released transcripts Wednesday of the two emergency calls that Damond made.

“I can hear someone out the back and I, I’m not sure if she’s having sex or being raped,” Damond told the emergency operator, later describing the sounds she was hearing as “distressed.”

Minutes later, the meditation and life coach who had moved to the US to marry her fiance called back to check if police were coming. The operator assured her that they were.

Harrity and Noor responded to the call with their emergency lights off. After Damond approached their squad car on the driver’s side, reportedly still in her pajamas, Noor shot her from the passenger’s seat.

She died at the scene of a gunshot wound to the abdomen, authorities said.

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Justine Damond
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