Police seek man seen near Minneapolis police shooting of Australian

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 19, 2017 12:35 PM

By Chris Kenning

(Reuters) - Minnesota investigators are searching for a man spotted near the scene of the fatal shooting of an Australian woman by a Minneapolis police officer, hoping he may shed light on the still murky circumstances of the killing.

Just before Sydney native Justine Damond was shot through a patrol car window by an officer before midnight Saturday, officers spotted an 18-to-25-year-old white male bicycling in the area, according to investigators who interviewed one officer.

As officers provided medical assistance to Damond, shot in the abdomen, the man stopped at the scene and watched, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said in a statement late Tuesday. Officials did not respond to requests for further detail on Wednesday.

Damond's death by a single gunshot has sparked outrage among family members and led Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to call it "shocking" and "inexplicable."

On the night of the shooting, officers Mohamed Noor and Matthew Harrity were driving through an alley searching for a suspect after Damond called about a possible sexual assault, the bureau said.

At one point, Harrity told investigators he was startled by a loud sound near the patrol car. Immediately afterward, Damond approached the driver's side of the squad car and Noor, who was in the passenger seat, fired his weapon through the open driver's-side window, striking Damond, the agency said.

Agents interviewed Harrity on Tuesday but Noor has declined to be interviewed. Noor's lawyer, Tom Plunkett, did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner has ruled the shooting a homicide. A spokeswoman for the office declined to say whether the office still has possession of the body or on funeral plans.

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Damond's relatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

The bureau said that body cameras were not turned on until after the shooting, which could have shed light on the incident. The squad car camera was also not turned on. They said the police would determine whether that violated any police policies.

Damond, who was also known as Justine Ruszczyk, had taken the name of her fiance, Don Damond, ahead of their wedding. They were due to be married in August, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper. She owned a meditation and life-coaching company, according to her personal website.

(Reporting by Chris Kenning)