Mohamed Noor found guilty on 3rd-degree murder, 2nd-degree manslaughter
MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) – Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor was found guilty on third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter and not guilty on second-degree murder in the 2017 shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.
The trial began on April 1, but it took more than a week to seat the 12-person jury. Over the course of the next three weeks, the jury heard from more than 61 witnesses. They received the case Monday afternoon and were sequestered until they reached unanimous verdicts.
On July 15, 2017, Noor shot and killed Justine Damond, who also went by Justine Ruszczyk, in the alley behind her home on the 5000 block of Washburn Avenue in Minneapolis’s Fulton neighborhood.
At 11:27 p.m. that night, Justine called 911 to report possible sexual assault in the alley. She said she could hear a woman screaming. A few minutes later, she called 911 again because no one had arrived. She told dispatch she was worried they got the address wrong.
At 11:37 p.m., Noor and his partner, Harrity, entered the alley on 50th Street between Washburn and Xerxes avenues. Harrity was driving, with Noor in the passenger seat.
By 11:39 p.m., they had reached the end of the alley near 51st Street and Noor entered “Code 4” into the squad computer, which meant the officers were safe and needed no assistance.
A few seconds later, Harrity reportedly heard a thump on the back of the squad car and a woman at the driver’s side window. Noor then reached across him and fired a shot through the open window, hitting Justine.
The shooting occurred at 11:40 p.m.—13 minutes after Justine’s first 911 call.
Harrity got out of the squad and helped guide Justine to the ground. The officers attempted to provide aid to her, but she died at the scene.
The officers were wearing body cameras, but did not turn them on until after the shooting.
Noor, Harrity testify
Noor took the stand to testify in his own defense. It was the first time he had spoken publicly about the deadly shooting.
In his testimony, Noor detailed moments leading up to the shooting. He said he recalled seeing a blonde woman at the driver’s side window. She raised her right arm.
Noor recalled his partner saying, “Oh, Jesus,” and struggling to un-holster his gun, which prompted him to act.
Noor said he put his left arm across his partner’s chest and stretched his right arm and gun beyond the steering wheel and pulled the trigger.
He repeated several times during his testimony that he made a “split-second decision” to fire his weapon in order to protect his partner.
Noor broke down at the end of his testimony, telling jurors he never would have become a cop if he knew he would shoot and kill and innocent woman.
Harrity testified earlier in the trial. He said the the squad car rolled slowly down the alley with the lights off, looking for the source of Justine’s 911 call of a “female screaming behind a building.” He said the 911 call had him “ready for anything.”
He testified that he absolutely remembered a thump on the back of the driver’s side of the squad car. He said a figure he could not make out approached the vehicle and he heard a murmur, possibly a human voice.
Harrity recalled yelling out, “Oh, s***,” or “Oh, Jesus.” He was reaching for his gun when he heard the pop and flash of Noor shooting.
“The use of deadly force was premature from what I had,” Harrity said, meaning his vantage point in the driver’s seat. He admitted he was scared for his life, but did not shoot because he had not fully assessed the threat of who was approaching the vehicle.
Harrity’s body camera video from the aftermath of the shooting was played it court. It showed Justine taking her final breaths.
Harrity appeared very calm in the moment, encouraging Justine to keep breathing and fighting. He also tried calming down Noor, who helped with chest compressions, reminding him to slow down and breathe himself.
Prosecutors doubt ‘thump’ or ‘slap’ on squad car
Throughout the trial, the state made it clear they do not believe there was any loud noise, like a thump or slap, on the back of the squad car that startled the pair of officers.
Prosecutors blamed the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for starting that storyline.
BCA Special Agent Eric Knutson testified that another agent on the scene told him about the alleged “slap” on the officers’ squad car, but he did not recall specifically who told him. Another BCA agent, Doug Henning, testified that he interviewed Harrity three days after the shooting. He clarified that Harrity told him he heard a “loud noise” or a “thump” at back of squad, not a “slap.”
An expert on fingerprints testified investigators found 51 latent prints on squad car, but none matched Damond. However, the defense pointed out that “knuckles” and “back-handed slaps” do not leave fingerprint evidence behind.
Lack of body camera footage
Both Noor and Harrity were wearing body cameras at the time of the shooting, but neither officer turned them on until after the shooting.
Harrity testified that nothing in the Minneapolis Police Department policy required it. He said he was worried about wasting the second or two it took to fiddle with it when he wanted his full attention on the call.
Current Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who was in command the night of the shooting and was at the scene in the immediate aftermath, testified that, per the department’s 2017 body camera policies, the officers’ body cameras should have been turned on for any potential criminal activity call, anything that could become adversarial or required pulling a gun.
The incident commander at the scene, Sgt. Shannon Barnette, turned off her body camera while initially talking to Noor and his partner. She testified that her first act when she got out of her squad car to inquire what was happening was to announce her camera was hot and shut it off.
Barnette had no good explanation when prosecutors asked why she shut off her body camera when she first arrived at the scene. She acknowledged the camera was off during her early conversations with Noor and Harrity. She later turned it back on.
State, defense deliver closing arguments
In their closing arguments, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Amy Sweasy pointed out big discrepancies between Noor’s testimony and that of his partner.
The state doubted Justine slapped the squad car or that the officers were startled by a loud noise. They also questioned Noor’s account of using his left arm to shield his partner as Noor stretched his right arm across the car before pulling the trigger.
Sweasy asked the jury why Noor and his partner, Matthew Harrity were so terrified to encounter a woman in that alley when the officers knew a female 911 caller had called twice about a woman in distress.
Sweasy told jurors, “police are trained to expect anything and everything,” and she wanted Noor’s credibility to be front and center during deliberations.
During his 95-minute closing argument, Noor’s attorney, Tom Plunkett slammed his hand down on the lectern, re-enacting the reported “thump” as he demonstrated how quickly the deadly shooting unfolded.
Plunkett asked jurors to consider the “totality of the circumstances”: the late time of night, the loud noise that startled Noor and Harrity, Harrity’s terrified reaction and his fumbling to get at his gun as Justine allegedly raised her right arm at the driver’s open window.
Plunkett argued Noor had a quarter-second to react. If there had been a gun in the victim’s hands, he would have been hailed as a hero. There was not, he explained, so it was a tragedy, but not a crime.