I had planned, gentle readers, to allow the first week of the trial of Mohamed Noor for various accounts of murder to pass before commenting. I much prefer to deliver substance rather than speculation. However, there are some potentially disturbing developments.
In this particular trial, the Presiding Judge, Kathryn Quaintance, and the Chief Judge, Ivy Bernhardson, have greatly restricted not only the ability of citizens, but the media, to sit in on the proceedings. In addition, Judge Quaintance has barred any viewing, even by the press, of the officer’s body cam footage, ostensibly because it is revealing and disturbing. People wrongfully killed by the police tend to look that way. Surely the sight of a blood covered Justin Damond, clad only in pajamas, is disturbing, but it is the reality of this case. Every bit of evidence gathered by the police is, with some very few and specific exceptions, public property. Murder tends to be revealing and disturbing. What an alleged murderer did must be revealed to all lest we think violence antiseptic, far away, something that happens only to others. Such thinking encourages some to praise killers, drug dealers, child molesters and other monsters, and causes them to lobby for their release and political canonization.
Scott Johnson at Powerline agrees. Johnson and I have linked to each other’s work on this case. He has me at something of a disadvantage. As a Minnesota attorney, he knows the system, and the players involved. I have only media accounts, and my experience, upon which to draw.
Johnson has been trying to get one of the very few and coveted press seats in the courtroom, and has been given the runaround. One is tempted to see sinister intent in this, but it may be mere incompetence. Considering the rampantly socialist nature of Minneapolis and its self-imagined elite rulers, I tend toward the first possibility. Here’s Johnson’s letter to Judge Bernhardson:
Dear Judge Bernhardson: I am a class of ’79 U Law School alum, a year behind you. I practiced law for 35 years and undertook a second career writing online for the site Power Line (powerlineblog.com). I covered the 2016 federal terrorism case that went to trial against three of the ten charged defendants for our site and for the Weekly Standard, for example.
I wrote Spenser Bickett on March 14 expressing my interest in obtaining press credentials for the Noor trial. He instructed me to check the court’s Noor page for updates on the procedure to obtain a seat. I checked the page every day. I found the orders you co-signed with Judge Quaintance last week. I have read your orders several times. I never saw any procedure set forth. Now I understand I neglected to sign up for email distribution of an announcement that I did not know of and never saw.
I have been exchanging emails this morning with Spenser Bickett (and now Christopherson Kyle) trying to ascertain what happened. I have yet to get there. As far as I am concerned, I applied for a seat on March 14.
Do you have the patience to entertain my issues on this? Something is wrong here. It may be my understanding that is defective, but I don’t really think so. In a long career practicing law, I prided myself on promptly returning phone calls and following court rules/orders.
Thank you for your courtesies and consideration.
Scott W. Johnson
Johnson has not, as this is being written, heard from the Judge. One might be tempted to think Judge Quaintance—perhaps the Minneapolis political establishment—does not want a canny legal observer like Johnson in the courtroom. It appears she may prefer to let the public know only what she will allow the handpicked press to hear, which would put mere citizens in the position of relying on reliable leftist outlets like The Minneapolis Star-Tribune for information about the trial.
In my preview on Sunday, I also noted that I failed even to comprehend Judge Quaintaince’s order barring the press and the public from whatever bodycam coverage was introduced at trial. The so-called Media Coalition covering the trial (Star Tribune Media Company LLC, CBS Broadcasting Inc., Minnesota Public Radio, TEGNA Inc., and Fox/UTV Holdings, LLC) also fails to understand. Yesterday this Media Coaliton filed a general objection to the court order that interferes with First Amendment newsgathering and reporting activities in the case. The objection includes a memorandum of law.
That objection may be found here. Johnson contrasts the Noor Trial with an earlier, and very high profile, trial he covered, and finds Quaintance wanting:
Judge Davis welcomed the press (online sites included). He turned away no one. He authorized the press to use laptops in the courtroom so long as they did not distract the jury. Judges Bernhardson and Quaintance have banned all devices from the vicinity of the Noor trial courtroom.
Judge Davis handed out copies of key exhibits. He assured that those in attendance — press and public — were able to see all the evidence presented by video. At the end of the case he handed out the court’s jury instructions to the press.
Judge Davis enforced compliance with the court’s rules, but the rules afforded maximum liberality. He conveyed the attitude that the press is the public’s eyes and ears. That is what he believes.
For the Hennepin County District Court the Noor trial is amateur hour. To borrow another cliché, they are not ready for prime time. It’s not just me — see the objection/memorandum filed yesterday by the Media Coalition. Someone needs to say it. This is an embarrassment.
I fear it may be more than an embarrassment. It may be an attempt to exonerate Noor in a way that limits public knowledge and shields the Minneapolis political establishment from public scrutiny. As I’ve previously written—the SMM Damond case archive is here–Noor is a member of multiple protected socialist victim classes. He’s Black, a Muslim and a Somali immigrant. The former mayor effusively praised him, and regularly tongue bathed every Somali she could find. He was a police officer. The Left loves to hate the police, but Leftist protection resides on an ever-shifting scale, where Black people might occupy the top rung today, gay people the next, and illegal immigrants the next week. Even people as hated as the police can find themselves protected if it’s politically expedient. Former FBI Director James Comey was hated by the Left, loved, and now it’s impossible to keep up.
Most–presumably–of the court documents to date are available here. Sixteen of a pool of 75 jurors have already been ejected for unspecified bias, but they may finish seating a jury, and perhaps get opening statements in before the end of the week, but likely, little more, if anything. The arguments are predictable.
The Defense Argument: the Defense has the unenviable task of arguing that it was reasonable for Mohamed Noor to shoot Justine Damond. It’s difficult to imagine what additional evidence might exist to justify Noor’s actions. Surely we will learn additional details, but the essential facts seem clear. Noor and his partner, Matthew Harrity had no situational awareness. They assumed the call was just another routine noise complaint. Instead of getting out of their steel safe room and using proper tactics, they lazily rolled through the alley and relaxed too soon, stopping at the end of the alley to wait for a passing bicyclist, their minds already on their next call.
We don’t know if they actually heard or saw anything. Harrity is claiming he might have heard a voice, and perhaps heard something make a noise on his vehicle that “spooked” him. All Damond was carrying was a cell phone, but here is, to date, no indication he–or Noor–saw it. Harrity may, or may not, have seen movement, a shadow, or merely experienced some sort of vague impression of something or other near his his window. The next thing he knew, Noor’s handgun is exploding in his face, and Damond is dying.
Noor has not spoken, but it seems clear he was in an even worse position than Harrity to have seen or heard anything. He may have fired for no reason other than that he and Harrity were “spooked.” It’s a virtual certainty he had no idea at what he was shooting or why. It is highly unlikely he’ll testify.
The defense will try to claim police officers are everywhere in unusual danger. They are under attack, being ambushed. Noor and Harrity feared an ambush in that dark alley, and so were justified in shooting at anything they saw as a threat, or just shooting in general. Any reasonable police officer would do the same.
The Prosecution Argument: Oh gentle readers, would I love to prosecute this case. The facts are simple. Scared out of his mind without justification, Noor fired at movement, sound, or just the fevered imaginings of his panicky brain. He was so scared he fired in the face of his partner. Their tactics were abysmal. They had no situational awareness. Their laziness reveals they had no concern of an ambush. They were so unaware that if Damond did slap their vehicle to get their attention, it scared them senseless and caused Noor to shoot at the first thing he saw, or thought he saw, or just imagined in blind terror. If she didn’t, and Harrity is inventing a slap to try to excuse Noor, his shooting of Damond is even more egregious.
Final Thoughts: Is the fix in? Will the prosecution present a competent case? Does everyone know the outcome before the first word is spoken? Judge Quaintence’s actions to drastically limit public information, and perhaps to allow only tame journalists to have access to the trial, is ominous. It may be an ill considered, but honest attempt to protect Noor, or it may be less noble.
Unless there are significant facts about which we currently know nothing—and this is highly unlikely—an acquittal of Mohamed Noor will establish the precedent that poorly trained police officers, people fundamentally unsuited to the job, may shoot at anything–or nothing–for any reason, whenever they feel “spooked.” Such people are always spooked. If this is what a “reasonable police officer” is allowed to do, God help us all.
More as it develops.
Update, 04-04-19, 2115 CST: Scott Johnson at Powerline reports he has heard from Judge Ivy Bernhardson, who apologized, but did not offer Johnson an assigned press seat.