FILE – In this April 1, 2019, file photo, former Us police officer Mohamed Noor, center, arrives for the first day of jury selection with attorneys Peter Wold, left, and Thomas Plunkett, in the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis, Minn. Noor is charged in the July 2017 the death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, who was killed after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault behind her house.(Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune via AP, File)
MINNEAPOLIS – Prosecutors in the case of an American police officer who shot an unarmed woman hammering at a distance what could be an important element of Mohamed Noor’s defense — that he heard a loud slap against his police SUV, which stirred fears of an ambush.
The prosecution has tried to raise doubts about the question or that slap occurred, and attacked government officials and researchers for obvious errors, and noted that the police in the scene, turned the body cameras on and off, not the sharing of information and possibly distorted evidence, according to court testimony.
Noor, 33, is on trial for murder and manslaughter in the July 15, 2017, after the death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a 40-year-old dual citizen of the V. S. and Australia who reported a possible sexual abuse in the alley behind her house. She was shot after she approached the vehicle.
A point of discussion is whether Damond hit the SUV, caused by an impact that Noor’s husband, director Matthew Harrity, testified that scared him so much that he drew his weapon. Defense attorneys for the Noor have said that he also heard a loud bang on the patrol car, but the prosecutors have suggested the blow was invented. They insist the officers faced no threat.
Harrity testified that he did not tell anyone about the pounding on the night of the shooting. The first time he talked about a noise it was three days later, when he sat down for a conversation with his lawyer and the investigators. But in one way or another, the idea that Damond hit the car made its way into a search warrant affidavit hours after the shooting.
“There was a notable absence of information,” Chris Olson, assistant agent in charge with the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, testified this week.
As he tries to find out what has happened, said Olson, the scene’s incident commander, Minneapolis police Sgt. Shannon Barnette, told him that they had a short conversation with Harrity, and that it sounded like Damond had made contact with the car. Olson gave contradictory statements about whether he or Barnette for the first time suggested that Damond hit the car, and how this information was passed on to another BCA researcher who made the search.
Bradford Colbert, a professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, said that on the basis of the law, Nor had a right to use deadly force to protect themselves or others. For prosecutors, Colbert said, the preference story would be that Damond was shot down after only appearing in the window. For the defense, it would be better if Damond hit the car, the make of the loud, unexpected sound.
“I can see why the state would be arguing or trying to convey that there is no hit,” he said.
Jennifer Kostroski, a BCA latent print examiner, testified there was no forensic evidence to show Damond hit the squad car. But under questioning by the defense, she said joints, or a backhand slap would not leave prints.
Other witnesses said the patrol car had been dusted for fingerprints — but not completely — then sent to be washed, just hours after the shooting.
“They would certainly have handled it better,” said Marsh Halberg, an American lawyer, that are not affiliated with the case. He stopped short of saying investigators made mistakes, but said: “in hindsight, I think that everyone could agree things could have been done smoother, more extended, more independent of each other.”
Representatives of the local police station and the state BCA said they could not comment.
The trial has revealed other apparent failures by the researchers. Some Minneapolis police officers turned their body cameras on and off, so it is possible that important decisions went undocumented. An officer was not told that Noor discharged from the inside of the vehicle, so he went to the car and possibly distorted evidence. Another researcher was concerned that Damond covered with a sheet, again possibly disturbing evidence.
And, a witness, state the researchers not to follow information about the original 911 call of Damond, so that officers of justice conducted their own research. Some of the officers on the scene did not initially know they were dealing with a police shoot — although the body camera video shows Harrity and Noor reported that the first responding officers.
Barnette testified last week that they do not speak with Noor about the shooting in the night, acknowledging on the witness stand that if she had, he would have provided, other than the information of his partner.
Colbert said it’s possible the state is the increase of these problems in an attempt to show that “everybody knew that this went wrong” and the police responded by going in cover-up mode.
“If it was just an accident, you would not go to those lengths. That seems to me to be the state’s strategy,” Colbert said, adding that prosecutors seem to be trying to show that the police knew from the get-go, that this is wrong, and they are just trying to cover their tracks.”
Check out the AP’s complete coverage of Mohamed Noor and the trial.