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Family of slain Australian woman sues Minneapolis police over shooting

(Reuters) - The family of an Australian woman shot dead by Minneapolis police last year after calling to report a suspected crime near her home sued the city and several officers on Monday, saying they had violated her civil rights.

FILE PHOTO: Justine Damond, also known as Justine Ruszczyk, from Sydney, is seen in this 2015 photo released by Stephen Govel Photography in New York, U.S., on July 17, 2017. Courtesy Stephen Govel/Stephen Govel Photography/Handout/File Photo via REUTERS

The fatal July 2017 shooting of 40-year-old life coach Justine Ruszczyk Damond sparked international outrage amid a wave of U.S. police shootings that fuelled a debate over the use of force by law enforcement.

Ex-Minneapolis Police Department officer Mohamed Noor was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for shooting Damond through the door of his patrol car as she approached him after calling police to say she thought she had heard a woman being raped.

Noor was fired the day the charges were filed and is free on $400,000 bail. His lawyers have said he will plead not guilty and will argue he used reasonable force.

The civil suit, filed in federal district court in Minnesota, names Noor and his partner Matthew Harrity, and accuses them of conspiring to conceal the facts around the shooting and failing to record the incident on their body cameras. The suit also referenced their age - Noor was 32, Harrity was 25 - and called them “inexperienced officers who appear, by their conduct, unfit for duty.”

The suit also names Minneapolis and its current and former police chiefs as defendants.

City Attorney Susan Segal said the city is reviewing the lawsuit and will respond. “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,” Segal said in a statement.

Attorneys for Noor and Harrity did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Justine saw something, she said something, and she got killed for doing something,” the family’s attorney, Bob Bennett, told a news conference. “A year later we still don’t have an explanation, so we’re going to sue these people to find out.”

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Damond’s father, John Ruszczyk, seeks more than $50 million in damages. The victim had taken the name of her American fiance, Don Damond, ahead of their planned wedding.

Harrity, who was driving the police car, said he was startled by a loud sound and both officers “got spooked” when Damond appeared, prosecutors said.

Among those expressing outrage was Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. After the shooting, Minneapolis officials said procedures had been violated and Damond “didn’t have to die.”

Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York, additional reporting by Diana Kruzman in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and James Dalgleish