Hennepin County Prosecutor Mike Freeman has finally made a decision: Officer Mohamed Noor of the Minneapolis Police Department has been arrested on two charges in the death of Justine Damond on July 15, 2017, more than nine months after her death, and after convening a grand jury against his previous public statements that he would not use a grand jury in such cases. In a press conference held on 03-20-18 (video available here) Freeman said he changed his mind to ensure transparency. Freeman also said a grand jury was necessary because the police union told MPD officers not to voluntarily cooperate with the investigation, and some did not (the union has claimed they were only advised of their rights). He also noted:
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman outlined the case against Mr Noor in a media conference this morning (AEDT).’We have a second-by-second understanding of what happened’….
‘In the short time between when Ms Damond Ruszczyk approached the squad car and the time that officer Noor fired the fatal shot, there is no evidence that officer Noor encountered a threat, appreciated a threat, investigated a threat or confirmed a threat that justified his decision to use deadly force.
‘Instead officer Noor intentionally and recklessly fired his handgun from the passenger seat in disregard for human life.
This article will focus on the charging statement/statement of probable cause. The follow up article, to be posted on Wednesday evening, 03-21-18 will focus on the laws under which Noor has been charged, and other related issues that will develop by then.
As I’ve previously noted (the SMM Damond archive is here), considering the facts available for the last nine months, while I cannot imagine a scenario where Noor’s shooting of Damond was reasonable and necessary, without an accurate time frame and all the facts, no one could be certain. Such a timeline is now available in the probable cause statement. I doubt the timeline contained therein is as accurate as the timeline that will be presented in court will be, but it is far better than previously available information. The timeline begins at 2317:01, 15 July 2017.
2327:01: Justine Damond made a 911 call to report a woman somewhere in the area behind her home who sounded distressed. As I’ve previously reported, Damond did not say it absolutely was a rape, only that it might be people having sex, or making similar sounds, and it had been going on for some time.
2327:42: The dispatcher aired this call to the unit–Squad 530–a Ford Explorer SUV carrying Officers Harrity (driver) and Noor (front seat passenger): “Squad 530 to 5024 Washburn Avenue South, female screaming behind building.”
2327:47: Another call was sent to 530’s computer, giving the address and the designation “UNK TRBL,” or “unknown trouble.”
2335:22 (8:21 after her first call): Damond called 911 again, saying officers had not arrived, and she was concerned they got the wrong address.
2336:04: Harrity and Noor were told Damond (they didn’t know her name) was calling back for an ETA–estimated time of arrival.
2337:29: Damond called Don Damond, her fiancé, who was out of town.
2337:40 (10:39 after Damond’s first 911 call): Harrity and Noor entered the alley. He turned off the exterior lights and dimmed the computer screen, but used his spotlight in the alley. He–the driver’s side–was facing the back yard of Damond’s home. Harrity’s window was down, but the PC statement doesn’t say if Noor’s was.
2339:10: Their conversation ended after Justine told Don “Okay, the police are here.” Obviously, she saw and/or heard the police vehicle, or at least its spotlight.
2339:34 (1:56 after entering the opposite end of the alley, and :24 after Justine and Don ended their phone call): Harrity and Noor were nearing the end of the alley after passing Damond’s home.
Noor entered “Code 4” into the computer, signifying everything was fine and no backup was required. Harrity turned the lights back on, they accelerated slightly but stopped at the street intersecting the alley to allow a bicyclist to pass. Harrity told Noor as soon as the bike passed, they would back officers on another call in progress.
2340:15 (1:05 after ending her call to Don): Noor shot Damond. This time was established by surveillance video of a couple leaving a nearby party who heard the gunshot.
2340:29: Their body cameras, which were activated only after Damond was shot, show Harrity and Noor standing over Damond.
2340:32: Harrity radioed: “Shots Fired, one down EMS Code 3.”
2340:44: The bicyclist began recording a 29 second video on his cellphone, and promptly left. At his press conference, Freeman would say only that this video was “unrevealing.” As Damond had already been shot and was dying, the video obviously did not capture the shooting or the events immediately before and after the gunshot.
2341:39: Harrity radioed he was beginning CPR.
2342:46: Noor took over (CPR).
2344:17: The first of many MPD officers arrived.
2344:47: The Minneapolis Fire Department arrived.
2349:16: HCMC paramedics arrived. They worked on Damond, but she soon died. No time of death was included in the PC statement.
Additional PC Statement Information:
From the time the officers entered the alley, until Damond was shot, only 3:25 elapsed. The statement indicates that when they entered the alley, Harrity unsnapped his holster, but makes no mention of the condition of Noor’s holster or whether he drew his gun, as has been previously widely reported. They drove down the alley at about 2 MPH, never stopping, and seeing nothing and no one. Harrity reported hearing what might have been a dog barking somewhere, but nothing else.
The medical Examiner reported Damond died from a single gunshot wound to the abdomen, but the statement makes no mention of the disposition of the gun or of how many rounds Noor may have fired, other than to say it was a ballistic match to the round taken from Damond’s body, and gunpowder residue was consistent with Harrity’s story and the other physical evidence. The police vehicle was apparently not damaged. From the PC Statement:
Officer Harrity later stated that he and Officer Noor were at the end of the alley waiting for the bicyclist to pass. Officer Harrity put the safety hood back on his holster. Officer Noor was on the computer. Officer Harrity put the car in park and his window was down. Officer Harrity stated that the officers were not going to continue to investigate the call or attempt to make contact with the 911 caller because they finished checking behind the buildings in the alley and found nothing. Five to ten seconds after Officer Noor entered Code 4 into the computer, 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. He was not able to articulate what the noise was, how loud it was, what the person’s voice sounded like, or what the person said. He characterized the voice as a muffled voice or a whisper. He could not see whether the person was a male, female, adult, or child. He could not see the person’s hands from the driver’s seat and estimated that the person was two feet away from him. He saw no weapons. Officer Harrity said he was startled and said, ‘Oh sh*t’ or ‘Oh Jesus.’ He said he perceived that his life was in danger, reached for his gun, un-holstered it, and held it to his ribcage while pointing it downward. He said that from the driver’s seat he had a better vantage point to determine a threat than Officer Noor would have had from the passenger seat.
Officer Harrity then heard a sound that sounded like a light bulb dropping on the floor and saw a flash. After first checking to see if he had been shot, he looked to his right and saw Officer Noor with his right arm extended in the direction of Officer Harrity. Officer Harrity said he did not see Officer Noor’s gun. Officer Harrity stated that he looked out his window on his left and saw a woman. The woman put her hands on a gunshot wound on the left side of her abdomen and said ‘I’m dying,” or ‘I’m dead.’ [emphasis mine] Officer Harrity said that once he saw the woman’s hands he believed her to no longer be a threat and he got out of the squad car. The woman was far enough away from the car that Officer Harrity was able to open his door and get out. Officer Noor got out of the passenger side still carrying his handgun; Officer Harrity told him to re-holster his gun and turn his body worn camera on.
This statement, while not providing every necessary fact, provides far more than has been previously know, none of it complimentary toward Harrity, Noor or their training and supervision. The statement also contains an apparent contradiction in Harrity’s testimony, as recorded by body camera as he spoke with his supervisor at the scene:
Officer Harrity told the sergeant that they were on a call and were getting ready to clear and go to another call when ‘she came up on the side out of nowhere.’ He said ‘we both got spooked’ and that he had his gun out. He said Officer Noor ‘pulled out and fired.’ Officer Harrity did not mention hearing a voice or hearing a noise before the shot was fired.
The statement provided its rationale for the arrest:
Given that it would have taken several seconds for Officer Noor to get out of the squad car and walk around to where Ms. Ruszcyk lay in the alley, the shot was fired less than 14 seconds after 11:40:15 p.m. There is no evidence that, in that short timeframe, Officer Noor encountered, appreciated, investigated, or confirmed a threat that justified the decision to use deadly force. Instead, Officer Noor recklessly and intentionally fired his handgun from the passenger seat, a location at which he would have been less able than Officer Harrity to see and hear events on the other side of the squad car.
The statement also notes the bullet traveled across Harrity’s body, and through the window without hitting anything inside the vehicle.
If we assume the information in the PC statement is accurate, and will not be significantly contradicted by additional information, which will not be revealed until trial (or possibly through defense leaks after discovery pre-trial), it’s clear my early theory and analysis of events holds up well. We now know:
*The officers did not believe there was a rape in progress in the alley. It was, to them and to the dispatchers, a routine call, like many received every day, which would amount to nothing.
*There was no reason, before, during or after traversing the alley, for the officers to suspect or fear an ambush.
*Their tactics were deplorable, and characteristic of cops too lazy to get out of their police car–a common malady. As I’ve previously noted, the smart, professional way to handle this sort of call would be to park some distance away and walk the alley on foot, spreading out, using cover and concealment, and stopping frequently to listen and look. Driving through the alley, in their vehicle, even with a window down, they could hear and see little or nothing–tire and engine noise alone would mask sound and give away their position–and using the spotlight would do nothing but provide a rolling aiming point, which is further proof they did not, for a second, suspect an ambush, or if they did, were incredibly tactically deficient.
*That before they even left the alley, they let their guard down, an incredibly stupid thing to do if they so much as thought an ambush a remote possibility. In police training, this is known as relaxing too soon. Harrity turned on his lights, Noor was typing, both were slightly aware of a passing bicyclist, and Harrity put the vehicle in park. Competent cops would be suspicious of the bicyclist passing at that exact moment and would want to keep an eye on them, stop and check them out; they might have heard or seen something, or they might have been involved. But they didn’t do any of this because they believed, before they ever entered the alley, it was a routine, nothing call, and treated it that way.
But Officer Harrity unsnapped his holster! So what? Many cops leave their holsters unsnapped much of the time. Most cops are not competent with their handguns, and don’t practice drawing from a snapped holster. Virtually none practice drawing from a snapped holster while seated in a police vehicle.
*That additional evidence of their laziness is their decision to blow off speaking with Damond. Competent cops always meet with the complaining party, who can tell them things that don’t translate through a dispatcher. They also do it for good public relations, to encourage citizens to make such calls, and to believe the police are out there doing their jobs.
*That it’s likely Damond believed–and with more cause then she knew–the officers were going to blow off the call and not speak with her. Her approach of the vehicle was likely intended only to be sure they had the information she naively believed they needed and wanted.
*The officers had no situational awareness. They were already talking about their next call, and hearing only a “thump” somewhere near the rear of the vehicle, a “whisper,” and perhaps seeing a head and shoulders near his door, Harrity panicked, believed his life was in danger, and drew his handgun. Noor knew and saw even less. Neither of them had any idea what that movement was. Was it human? A piece of fluttering newspaper? A shadow or flickering light? They had no idea, but Noor, in a blind panic, fired. It’s entirely possible Noor saw and heard nothing at all, but, like Harrity, utterly unaware of his surroundings, was reacting to Harrity’s panic.
*Noor was as dangerous to Hannity as he was to the public. Apparently firing across Harrity’s body one-handed, Noor somehow managed to hit Damond, probably because he was thrusting his gun more or less straight at the window as he fired rather than trying to aim. He would have had no idea what he was aiming at in any case.
I have practiced firing from a seated position with a snapped holster, and watched fellow officers do the same. Trying to shoot one-handed across the vehicle often resulted in officers shooting up the door and frame, and had someone been sitting in the driver’s seat, they would have suffered damage too.
The PC statement is right: there is no way Noor could possibly have been able to identify his target to identify a deadly, imminent threat that required the immediate application of deadly force. Without that, no one, cops or citizens, gets to shoot. Harrity was right about one this: he and Noor were surely “spooked,” and they were spooked because they were lazy, incompetent cops with no situational awareness. Competent cops know they can meet innocents anywhere at any time. They just don’t get to shoot people or things just because they, through their own lack of skill and experience, get “spooked.”