Growing protests against the police in Minneapolis following the killing of an Australian woman led to the ouster of the city’s police chief, Janee Harteau, who resigned at the mayor’s request. “I’ve lost confidence in the chief’s ability to lead us further,” Mayor Betsy Hodges said shorty after the resignation that came less than a week after police shot and killed Justine Damond, who had called 911 to report a possible sexual assault. Two officers responded and one of them shot Damond in a confusing incident. Neither of the two officers had turned on their body cameras.
The shooting of Damond, a native of Australia who had moved to Mineappolis to be with her fiancé, has become an international incident as her relatives and even Australia’s prime minister are calling for clarity about what happened.
“We are demanding answers on behalf of her family, and our hearts go out to her family and all of her friends and loved ones,” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a television interview. “It’s a truly tragic, tragic killing … something clearly went tragically wrong.”
In a statement, Harteau said she had “decided to step aside” to let a “fresh set of leadership eyes” try to figure out how to improve the department. “The recent incidents do not reflect the training and procedures we developed as a department,” Harteau said in a statement. “Despite the MPD’s many accomplishments under my leadership over these years and my love for the City, I have to put the communities we serve first.” Earlier, she had said the shooting was the result of “one individual’s actions” that shouldn’t reflect on the police department as a whole.
Harteau had served as the city’s first female, first openly gay, and first Native American police chief. Her tenure was plagued with complaints about police tactics and two years ago the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man led to weeks of protests. Activists were quick to point out that Harteau spoke up about Damond, who was white, when she regularly defended officers involved in shootings of black people. “She is attempting to paint this as an isolated case based on one officer’s poor judgment as opposed to a systemic pattern,” an activist tells the New York Times.
The resignation came after days of protests that continued on Friday night. In fact, Hodges was forced to delay a news conference when protesters interrupted and called for her resignation. Hodges has said she won’t be resigning and nominated Assistance Police Chief Medaria Arradondo to take over the department.
There may soon be more clarity about what happened that night as a witness to Damond’s shooting has been located and is cooperating. The witness apparently filmed at least part of the encounter that led to Damond’s death, according to a source who talked to the Star Tribune.