US officer charged with murder of unarmed Australian woman

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., in this July 17, 2017 file photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 21 March 2018
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US officer charged with murder of unarmed Australian woman

CHICAGO: A police officer in the US state of Minnesota who shot dead an unarmed Australian woman last July was charged Tuesday with murder, in a case that sparked an international outcry.
Mohamed Noor shot Justine Damond, a resident of the city of Minneapolis, after she called to report a possible rape in the evening hours, and approached the police car that had arrived to investigate.
“From the short time between when Ms Damond Ruszczyk approached the squad car, to the time that Officer Noor fired the fatal shot, there is no evidence that Officer Noor encountered a threat... that justified his decision to use deadly force,” Hennepin County prosecutor Mike Freeman said.
“Instead, Officer Noor recklessly and intentionally fired his handgun from the passenger seat, in disregard for human life.”
Noor, who is Somali American, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, which respectively carry sentences of up to 25 years, and up to 10 years.
The shooting caused outrage in the United States and in Damond’s native Australia. The 40-year-old had moved to the US to marry her fiancee whose name she had already legally adopted. Her maiden name was Ruszczyk.
Damond’s Australian relatives and the country’s prime minister demanded answers — and protests in Minneapolis led to the resignation of the city’s police chief.
The shooting also raised concerns among the Midwestern city’s Somali American community, with worries about a possible backlash.
“Our city stands firmly with Justine’s family, and hope they find piece in a time of grief,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said following the charges.
“Our city stands firmly with our Somali community and against those leveling blame on our beloved neighbors,” the mayor added.
The police department said Tuesday was Noor’s last day on the force, but would not elaborate on whether the officer resigned or was fired.

Noor refused to cooperate with investigators.
His lawyer responded to the charges by claiming the prosecutor had jumped to conclusions.
“The facts will show that Officer Noor acted as he has been trained and consistent with established departmental policy. Officer Noor should not have been charged with any crime,” attorney Tom Plunkett said in a statement.
The prosecutor said his eight-month investigation had constructed a detailed account of the events — laid out in a charging document filed in state court.
Damond had called police twice to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home.
Noor and fellow officer Matthew Harrity responded, drove through the alley at a slow pace, and as they reached the end of the alley, Noor reported back an all-clear signal.
The officers were preparing to drive away when they heard a noise that startled them, the court filing said, causing Harrity to believe “his life was in danger.”
“Officer Harrity heard a voice, a thump somewhere behind him on the squad car, and caught a glimpse of a person’s head and shoulders outside his window,” according to the criminal complaint.
Noor then shot out the driver’s side window of the squad car, striking Damond in the abdomen.
“Ms Damond Ruszczyk put her hands on the wound on her left side and said ‘I’m dying,’ or ‘I’m dead,’” Freeman said.
She died at the scene.
The prosecutor alleged Noor’s actions went against his training.
“A person sitting in a passenger’s seat of the squad car takes a gun... he reaches across in front of his partner, shoots a gun at an object that he can’t see,” Freeman said.
“What we’re saying with this charge is that Officer Noor did not act reasonably.”


California doctor accused of prescribing drugs in 5 deaths

This undated photo provided by the Orange County Sheriff's Office shows Stephen Scarpa, 25. Scarpa has been charged with murder in the death of an off-duty fire captain on a bicycle whom authorities say Scarpa struck and killed with his car. Authorities say Scarpa told investigators he was on drugs prescribed by Dr. Dzung Ahn Pham, a Southern California doctor who was arrested Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018 on charges of doling out drugs to patients he didn't examine and is alleged to have prescribed drugs to five people who died of overdoses, federal prosecutors said. (AP)
Updated 12 min 13 sec ago
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California doctor accused of prescribing drugs in 5 deaths

  • State officials were aware of improper prescribing practices years before that, according to records at the Osteopathic Medical Board

LOS ANGELES: A Southern California doctor was arrested Tuesday on charges of doling out drugs to patients he didn’t examine and is alleged to have prescribed drugs to five people who died of overdoses as well as an impaired driver who struck and killed a bicyclist, federal prosecutors said.
Dr. Dzung Ahn Pham, 57, faces charges of illegally distributing opioids and other narcotics to what authorities called “patients,” but who were addicts using the drugs or people selling them on the street. He prescribed some drugs after receiving text messages requesting specific quantities and doses, prosecutors said.
“This case clearly and tragically illustrates the dangers of drug dealers armed with prescription pads,” said US Attorney Nick Hanna.
A phone call and email seeking comment from Pham’s lawyer, John Barton, were not immediately returned. Phone calls to Pham’s urgent care clinic in Irvine and a number listed for his home were not answered.
Pham’s record of prescribing large amounts of pills led a CVS pharmacy to stop accepting prescriptions from him more than five years ago when he couldn’t justify the number of pills patients were picking up, prosecutors said.
State officials were aware of improper prescribing practices years before that, according to records at the Osteopathic Medical Board.
Pham was reprimanded by the board in 2007 for excessive prescribing, prescribing without good faith examination, repeated negligent acts and prescribing to an addict, among other charges. Details of the record were not immediately available.
Between 2014 and 2017, Pham wrote prescriptions for five people who died from overdoses, prosecutors said. He’s not charged in those deaths, but those investigations are ongoing, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the US attorney.
One of the overdose deaths was a 21-year-old man, identified in the affidavit only by initials S.L.S. who fatally overdosed on a combination of heroin and two of the types of drugs Pham prescribed. The man’s mother referred to Pham as “Dr. Feelgood.”
In November, a driver who fatally struck an off-duty firefighter training on his bike for a triathlon told investigators he was on drugs prescribed by Pham, prosecutors said. Several prescription bottles with Pham’s name were found in the driver’s car.
Orange County prosecutors have charged Stephen Scarpa, 25, with murder in the death of Costa Mesa fire Capt. Mike Kreza.
The death came a few months after an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent was able to quickly score from Pham what is referred to as a “triple threat” or “holy trinity,” a combination of three types of narcotics, the affidavit said. Pham directed the agent to an Irvine pharmacy that filled many of his prescriptions.
The affidavit filed with the charges described many of Pham’s text messages, indicating in one case that he was having a sexual relationship with a patient. He was prescribing drugs to that woman and also to her 9-year-old daughter, according to the document by DEA Special Agent Lindsey Bellomy.
In another text exchange, Pham told someone he was concerned after learning that the gunman who killed 11 and wounded a responding officer who died from a fellow officer’s bullet during a shootout at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks last month had prescriptions Pham wrote for someone else.
The document does not provide any information on whether Ian Long, the shooter who took his own life after the Nov. 7 mass shooting, possessed any prescriptions written by Pham.
“I never saw Mr. Long before so I don’t know the implication of this information,” Pham wrote in the text message exchange, according to the affidavit.
The person Pham was texting responded by trying to reassure Pham he was in the clear if the prescriptions were not written to Long.
“If I give my meds to some crazy person its (sic) on me, not you, you have no control over what happened after a patient leaves your office,” the person replied.
The criminal complaint said Pham charged $100 to $150 a visit at his clinic and deposited $6.7 million into bank accounts between 2013 and September.
If convicted of the charges, Pham could face up to 40 years in prison, prosecutors said.