The family of an Australian woman shot dead by a policeman has hired a high-profile lawyer who has blasted claims the officers had reason to fear an ambush.
Earlier on Thursday, an unnamed source suggested officers Mohamed Noor and Matthew Harrity were spooked when they responded to Justine Damond’s 911 call in an alley behind her Minneapolis home.
Ms Damond approached the driver’s side of the vehicle before Office Noor, 31, leaned over his partner and shot her in the abdomen.
Robert Bennett, the lawyer hired by the 40-year-old victim’s family, said the claim the officers could have been spooked and feared an ambush at the time was “ludicrous”.
“It is disinformation being put out there for … for I don’t know what. It doesn’t have any basis in fact,” Mr Bennett told CBS Minnesota.
“Justine obviously wasn’t armed and there wasn’t any reason she should have been perceived to be.”
Robert Bennett’s CBS interview
Mr Bennett, who represented the family of Philando Castile, said the Damonds were considering a civil lawsuit.
Mr Castile was shot dead in July last year by a Minnesota police officer while his girlfriend live-streamed the incident on Facebook. The officer, Jeronimo Yanex, was acquitted last month but was stood down.
Mr Bennett won Mr Castile’s family a US$2.995 million (AU$3.76 million) lawsuit.
Mr Harrity’s lawyer earlier suggested the officers could have had reason to fear an ambush.
“It’s certainly reasonable to assume that any police officer would be concerned about a possible ambush under these circumstances,” Mr Bruno told the Star Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis.
“It was only a few weeks ago when a female NYPD cop and mother of twins was executed in her car in a very similar scenario.”
Ms Damond made two emergency 911 calls reporting a possible assault. The officers, after failing to notice any activity, were dispatched to another call when a young man rode past on a bicycle, an unnamed source told KTSP TV station.
As the officers watched the cyclist cross the passenger side of the vehicle, they heard the pounding noise on the driver’s side, the source was quoted as saying.
Officer Noor had his gun in his lap at the time that Ms Damond approached the car, the source added.
The claim comes as the Minneapolis Police Department released transcripts of Ms Damond’s 911 calls, which reveal the Australian spiritual healer was not sure if a woman behind her home was being raped or having loud sex.
Ms Damond’s first call was made at 11.27pm local time.
“I can hear someone out the back and I, I’m not sure if she’s having sex or being raped,” Ms Damond, who moved to the US to be with her American fiancé and set up a meditation and life coach business, told the police operator.
The call continued with the operator asking for Ms Damond’s address.
Ms Damond then described how the screams were coming from the back of her property.
“I think she just yelled out ‘help’, but it’s difficult the sound has been going on for a while, but I think, I don’t think she’s enjoying it,” Ms Damond told the operator.
The operator then confirmed with Ms Damond that she could only hear, not see, the woman.
“Yeah,” Ms Damond replied. “It sounds like sex noises, but it’s been going on for a while and I think she tried to say ‘help’ and it sounds distressed.”
The operator then assured Ms Damond help was on the way.
At 11.35pm Ms Damond called 911 again and the operator recognised her as “Justine”, the previous caller.
“You’re hearing a female screaming?” the operator asked.
“Yes, along behind the house,” Ms Damond said.
“Officers are on the way there,” the operator said.
Soon after the police squad car containing officers Noor and Harrity, who both had less than two years’ experience in the police force, pulled into the alley behind her premises with the vehicle’s lights off.
– With agencies