The family of an unarmed woman who was fatally shot by a Minneapolis police officer last summer filed a federal lawsuit on Monday against the officer, his partner, top police officials and the city itself.
The suit on behalf of the family of the woman, Justine Maia Ruszczyk, seeks $50 million in damages. In the minutes before she was shot, Ms. Ruszczyk, a dual citizen of Australia and the United States who was living in Minneapolis, called 911 twice to report sounds that she believed were of a woman being attacked somewhere in her affluent neighborhood.
“She saw something, she said something — and she got killed for it,” Robert Bennett, a lawyer for her family, said in an interview on Monday. The lawsuit also accuses Mohamed Noor, the police officer who shot Ms. Ruszczyk, and his partner, Matthew Harrity, of failing to turn on the body cameras they were wearing when they should have — in effect, conspiring to prevent the public from ever seeing what happened, the suit said.
“We want the Minneapolis police culture to be reformed in such a way and to the extent necessary to stop such senseless acts from happening again and again,” John Ruszczyk, the woman’s father, who is a plaintiff in the suit, said in a written statement. “As the complaint shows, the police department’s problems are systemic.”
Ms. Ruszczyk has also been called Justine Damond in many news reports, and some people knew her as Ms. Damond in Minneapolis, where she was preparing for her wedding to her fiancé, Don Damond. But Ruszczyk was her legal surname at the time of the shooting, her family’s lawyers say, and she is referred to by that name in official records of her death.
“Justine died in her pajamas trying to help someone else,” her father said. “We cannot let her death be in vain.”
The shooting on July 15, 2017, perplexed people in Minneapolis and in Australia, where Ms. Ruszczyk’s father and many friends and relatives live. The circumstances were highly unusual: Ms. Ruszczyk, who was 40 and a yoga and meditation instructor known in her neighborhood for rescuing a flock of ducklings from a street drain, had heard sounds of someone in distress late that evening. They seemed to be coming from the alley behind her house, she told her fiancé in a phone call that night. She called 911.
When Officers Noor and Harrity arrived a few minutes later, they drove through the alley with their emergency lights off. Officer Harrity later reported being startled by a noise and a figure who appeared outside the police car, according to prosecutors. Officer Noor, still in the car, fired a shot through the open driver’s side window, striking Ms. Ruszczyk.
The shooting set off new examinations of the Minneapolis Police Department, how it trains its officers and how its officers use deadly force. Not long after Ms. Ruszczyk’s death, city officials removed the Minneapolis police chief, Janee Harteau, who is named in the suit. Police officers were told that they needed to turn on their body cameras in more situations. And Officer Noor was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The case has yet to be heard. A lawyer for Officer Noor, who was removed from the department, has previously said that the officer’s behavior was consistent with the department’s policy and that he should not have been charged.
Lawyers for the officers named in the lawsuit could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday.
Susan Segal, the city attorney for Minneapolis, issued a statement on behalf of the city responding to the suit. “The loss of a life, the loss of Justine Ruszczyk, is a tragedy,” she said. “We are reviewing the civil lawsuit and will be responding to it. Meanwhile, serious criminal charges are currently pending against Mohamed Noor, and it’s critically important that the criminal case be allowed to proceed through trial without interference.”
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