“Justine didn’t have to die.”

Those were the first public words from Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau on Justine Damond, a 40-year-old Australian woman who was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer responding to a 911 call by Damond herself.

“Based on the publicly released information from BCA, this should not have happened,” Harteau told reporters Thursday evening, referring to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is investigating the shooting at the request of Minneapolis police.

The publicly released information isn’t too detailed.

Damond had called 911 twice shortly before 11:30 p.m. to report what she believed might be a woman being raped in the alley behind her house in south Minneapolis. Officer Matthew Harrity drove his squad vehicle with the lights off, as he and Officer Mohamed Noor headed down the alley behind the 5000 block of Washburn Avenue South.

According to what Harrity told BCA investigators, there was a loud noise and then Damond approached Harrity’s side of the vehicle. Noor opened fire across Harrity and through the driver’s side window, fatally striking Damond. She was unarmed.

That was enough for Harteau.

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Harteau acknowledged it was rare for a chief to speak so strongly so early in an investigation into an officer’s conduct.

“Rare, but each situation is different, and I can certainly speak on what the public knows,” she said. “The death of Justine should not have happened.”

Harteau’s remarks came so many days after the shooting because she was on vacation, backpacking in what she called a “remote” mountainous area with only sporadic cellphone coverage.

“For a chief, this is a nightmare, not only to have an event like this occur but to not be here,” she said in response to repeated questions from several reporters. She added: “But I assure everyone in this community that there wasn’t anything that didn’t get done.”

She said the impact of the shooting, which has drawn international attention, particularly from Australia, has not been lost on her.

“This has had a negative impact on the trust we’ve built,” she said.

More than once, Harteau implied that blame should fall squarely on Noor. “We are talking about one individual’s actions,” she said.

Harteau said she had spoken with Damond’s family and promised them “justice.”

Noor has expressed sympathy through an attorney but has refused to speak with BCA investigators — his constitutional right. However, he could face discipline or even lose his job if he refuses to speak with Minneapolis police internal affairs investigators.

Harteau said she hopes Noor will talk.

“I would prefer Officer Noor would speak, whether it be to our internal process or the BCA,” she said. “There are questions that need to be answered.”

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(c)2017 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)

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