(Adds comment by Noor’s attorney, paragraphs 10-11)
By Todd Melby
MINNEAPOLIS, March 20 (Reuters) - The Minneapolis police officer who fatally shot an unarmed Australian woman last July was arrested on Tuesday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, prosecutors said.
Mohamed Noor, 32, turned himself in and was arrested for the death of Justine Damond, 40, who had called 911 about a possible sexual assault near her house, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said at a news conference announcing the charges.
“There is no evidence that Officer Noor encountered a threat, appreciated a threat, investigated a threat or confirmed a threat that justified his decision to use deadly force,” Freeman said. “Instead, Officer Noor recklessly and intentionally fired his handgun.”
After Noor shot her, Damond put her hands on the gunshot wound on the left side of her abdomen and said, “I’m dying” or “I’m dead,” Freeman said.
The shooting drew condemnation in Minnesota and Australia, where Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called it “shocking” and “inexplicable.” Then-Minneapolis police chief Jamee Harteau resigned after city officials said procedures had been violated and Damond “didn’t have to die.”
The third-degree murder charge accused Noor of committing an “eminently dangerous act” and showing a “depraved mind,” and the second-degree manslaughter charge cited “culpable negligence creating unreasonable risk,” the records showed.
The penalty for third-degree murder is up to 25 years in prison and second-degree manslaughter carries a penalty of up to 10 years, according to a state website.
Freeman, Minneapolis’ top prosecutor, had delayed his decision in December, saying his office needed more time and that he lacked sufficient evidence to charge Noor.
Noor has been on paid leave and refused to be interviewed by Minnesota state investigators. Noor’s attorney, Tom Plunkett, said his client should not be charged.
“The loss of Justine Ruszczyk Damond is a tragedy and Officer Noor again personally extends his continued condolences to her family for their loss,” Plunkett said in a statement.
“The facts will show that Officer Noor acted as he has been trained and consistent with established departmental policy,” Plunkett added. “Officer Noor should not have been charged with any crime.”
Damond’s fiance, Don Damond, and her father, John Ruszczyk, issued a joint statement in which they praised the decision to charge Noor and hoped it resulted in a conviction, calling it “one step toward justice for this iniquitous act.”
“No charges can bring our Justine back. However, justice demands accountability for those responsible for recklessly killing the fellow citizens they are sworn to protect,” they said in the statement.
Damond, who was living in Minneapolis and engaged to be married, approached the police after their arrival, authorities have said. She had owned a meditation and life-coaching company.
Neither Noor, who came to the United States from Somalia as a child, nor Matthew Harrity, another officer in the patrol car, had their body cameras activated, police have said.
Harrity was startled by a loud sound near the patrol car shortly before Noor fired from the passenger seat of the patrol car through Harrity’s window, Freeman said.
Harrity, who pulled out his handgun during the incident but did not fire it, said both officers “got spooked” when Damond appeared “out of nowhere,” Freeman said.
Noor is scheduled to make an initial court appearance on Wednesday in Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis. Prosecutors are asking that Noor’s bail be set at $500,000, Freeman said. (Reporting by Todd Melby in Minneapolis Writing by Ben Klayman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Matthew Lewis)