The criminal justice system is often glacially slow, but not nearly as slow as the civil system. Justine Damond was killed on July 15, 2017. If the schedule holds, former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor’s murder trial will begin on April 1, 2019, but I wouldn’t count on that. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports:
Fired Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor is scheduled to stand trial on murder and manslaughter charges next April for the shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.
In a brief court appearance — Noor’s second since he was charged — Hennepin County District Judge Kathryn Quaintance set an April 1, 2019, trial date, while denying a number of defense motions to dismiss the case and to exclude certain evidence. There existed enough evidence, she ruled, to bring Noor to trial for the death of the 40-year-old Australian woman in July 2017.
‘What was in the defendant’s mind at the time of the incident can only be inferred at this point,’ Quaintance said in court, reading from her order. ‘There is, however, sufficient evidence from which the state could argue that Mr. Noor fired without knowing what or who was outside the police cruiser.
Judge Quaintance is quite right. A primary issue in this case is what Mohamed Noor, what any reasonable police officer, given that set of circumstances, should have known, and should have done. No reasonable officer should have killed Damond, and Noor’s partner that night, Matthew Harrity, who was much closer to Damond, and theoretically, in much more immediate danger, not only did not recognize her as a threat, he did not fire at her.
Noor’s termination was appealed by the police union, but its grievance is on hold pending the outcome of the criminal case.
The defense argued for dismissal on the grounds that the intense media attention surrounding the case might undermine Noor’s right to a fair trial. The defense also argued that comments Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman made last winter rose to the level of prosecutorial misconduct and could taint prospective jurors.
But while Quaintance called Freeman’s comments lamenting the lack of evidence in the case ‘ill-advised,’ she wrote in a separate order that ‘there is no indication that it has the potential to prejudice Defendant’s right to a fair trial.
This is an issue I’ve covered in some detail. To find all articles in this case, select “The Justine Damond Case” in the “Post Categories” tab in the right sidebar on the home page. Freeman’s comments actually fall in the “idiotic” column, and should give anyone pause regarding his professional knowledge and deportment. But again, Quaintance is correct. Whether the prosecution will botch this case, which any competent prosecutor should be able to win, remains to be seen. Noor, who is out on bond, will continue to plead “not guilty.”
The defense has said the results of psychological testing alone provide an incomplete picture of Noor, calling prosecutors’ release of those records intentionally ‘misleading.’ Noor’s lawyers maintained that the ex-officer fired in response to a perceived threat, after Damond banged on the back of his police SUV, startling him and his partner, Matthew Harrity.
That’s the point: no reasonable officer should have been startled by Damond’s innocuous and non-threatening actions, and surely should not have killed her. If Noor gets away with this, the precedent that officers may kill innocents if they merely “feel threatened,” without any objective facts to justify those feelings, will be set.
In denying their motion to quash the psychological records, Quaintance maintained that while the psychiatrist who interviewed Noor has a medical background, no physician-patient privilege bars their release, since the records were obtained during pre-employment screening. She further ruled that there was no legal precedent for sealing the records, as the defense had requested.
Noor is the first police officer statewide in recent memory to be charged with murder for an on-duty killing.
This would be because in every other shooting, the officers involved could at least claim to have acted reasonably and within the law.
Prosecutors argued that Noor’s actions on that night reflected a pattern of behavior that dated back to his hiring in early 2015, when a psychological profile exam revealed ‘a level of disaffiliativeness that may be incompatible with public safety requirements.’ They said red flags were also raised during Noor’s training.
From what we know, this is an example of understatement, but as always, we do not have the police reports and all related records. We’ll likely only have that information, filtered through media accounts—the trial will not be televised–at trial. And “disaffiliativeness”? One can only hope Freeman won’t use obscure terms like this before the jury.
Prosecutors sought to seal the records, arguing that since they were collected in the course of an investigation by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, it should be considered ‘investigative data,’ whose release under state data practices law is allowed only when the investigation is closed. Quaintance agreed, but did not rule on a follow-up filing by Noor’s attorneys asking that if the judge allowed those records in, she make them available to the public.
Again, the prosecution is behaving oddly. The investigation is not closed? There’s more to do? What could that be at this point?
Noor is also the subject of two lawsuits currently wending their way through federal court. Damond’s father filed a $50 million suit last month accusing Noor and Harrity of conspiring to cover up evidence of the shooting by failing to turn on their body cameras, and later hiding behind a ‘blue wall of silence’ as the case was being investigated.
A status conference is scheduled for Oct. 17 in another lawsuit, filed weeks before the Damond shooting by a south Minneapolis woman who accused Noor and two other officers of illegally removing her from her home.
Attorneys in the Damond suit have filed motions seeking to delay the proceedings until after the criminal trial, but the judge in that case has yet to rule.
More to come as it develops, gentle readers.