The Twin Cities attorney hired to represent Justine Damond’s family said Thursday that the Australian native was an unlikely victim of what is “quite clearly an improper use of deadly force.”
Robert Bennett was hired earlier this week by Damond’s family members who he said are seeking justice after police gunfire killed the 40-year-old meditation teacher soon after she placed a 911 call Saturday to report a possible sexual assault.
“It’s quite clearly an improper use of deadly force on someone who it is impossible for me to conceive of as a threat to anyone,” Bennett said Thursday. “I mean she saves ducklings out of the sewer, for God’s sakes.”
Bennett has worked on other high-profile cases over police conduct, including working with the family of Philando Castile in a settlement over his shooting death in Falcon Heights and representing Frank Baker, who was bitten by a police dog and kicked by a St. Paul police officer last year.
Calling Damond “the most innocent victim” of a police shooting he has ever seen, he quickly added, “I’m not saying Philando wasn’t innocent, too, or that Frank Baker wasn’t innocent. But here is someone who called the police and was trying to stop someone from being hurt … and ends up being shot in her pajamas.”
Bennett said Damond’s relatives are seeking a transparent investigation, body camera policy reform and changes in how officers are trained and selected.
He added that they also want swift discipline — including possible termination — for the officer who shot Damond, Mohamed Noor.
Following the criminal investigation, Bennett said it is likely Damond’s family here and in Australia will consider a lawsuit.
“I can’t conceive the circumstances where they wouldn’t,” he said.
Family members of Justine Damond say they hope to bring her back to her native Australia to say goodbye.
“All we want to do is bring Justine home to Australia to farewell her in her hometown among family and friends,” her family wrote in a statement e-mailed to the Star Tribune late Wednesday. “We are still trying to come to terms with this tragedy and we are struggling to understand how and why this could happen.”
Damond, also known as Justine Ruszczyk, has become a fixture in headlines across the globe since her death, which Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called “shocking” and “inexplicable.” Turnbull joined a growing chorus of voices to demand answers about what happened that night — including Damond’s Australian family.
“We are in constant contact with the Australian Government, and representatives of the US Government and Minnesota State authorities,” the family wrote in the e-mail. “We want to see the investigation come to a conclusion, as soon as possible, so we have some resolution to the tragedy.”
Family and friends joined hundreds of mourners who carried candles and flowers to Sydney’s Freshwater Beach early Wednesday for a silent tribute.
The yoga instructor and health coach moved from Sydney to Minneapolis several years ago to be with her fiancé, Don Damond, who is vice president and general manager of Little Six Casino in Prior Lake, according to his LinkedIn account. The two had planned to marry in August.
Damond regularly led meditation at Lake Harriet Spiritual Community, where a memorial of chalk messages, flowers and small tokens of lament has emerged in the days since her death. Friends say plans are underway for a Twin Cities memorial service in the coming weeks.
Hannah Covington • 612-673-4751