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How dark is dark, and is the dark a free fire zone?

We begin with reporting on the second day of testimony, Wednesday, 04—11-19 and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, a reliable leftist organ.  They prepared the narrative: 

Jurors on Wednesday heard 911 audio and saw video and photos of the crime scene in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, who is charged with killing Damond on July 15, 2017, after responding to her call about a possible rape behind her home. Evidence was introduced as disputes between the defense and prosecution continued to mar the proceedings.

This is very misleading.  In her original call to the MPD, Justine Damond told the dispatcher: 

Operator: 911, what’s the address of the emergency?

Caller: Hi, I’m, I can hear someone out the back and I, I’m not sure if she’s having sex or being raped.

Seconds later:

Operator: Okay, already got a call started and help on the way. Uh, you can’t see anything, you’re just hearing a female screaming then, is that what you’re saying?

Caller: Yeah. It sounds like sex noises, but it’s been going on for a while and I think she tried to say help and it sounds distressed.

As I’ve previously noted, it’s not at all unusual for police officers to find people having sex in all the wrong places.  This is all the dispatcher told Noor and Harrity:

‘Squad 530 to 5024 Washburn Avenue South. Female screaming behind the building.’

This is what Damond told the dispatcher on her second call a few minutes later:

Operator: You’re hearing a female screaming?

Caller: Yes, along behind the house.

Operator: Yup, officers are on the way there.

Justine Damond

The Strib’s formulation gives the impression Harrity and Noor were responding to a felony in progress, which might tend to help justify Noor’s murder of Damond. It is entirely false. What matters is not what the dispatcher knew, but what the officers knew.  If the dispatcher radioed a rape in progress, multiple cars would have immediately sped to the scene.  Everything Noor and Harrity did, and the complete absence of other cars, demonstrates everyone knew they were responding to a routine noise complaint.  In such cases, officers either find nothing, or end up telling some noisy people to quiet down.  In case you doubt my analysis, gentle readers, take the link, where you’ll find The Strib—as it is locally known–neglects to mention what the officers were actually told.

We now know Noor’s bullet severed Damond’s Iliac artery.  She had no chance, and bled out, internally, her abdomen filling with blood, within seconds, minutes at most.  We also learned there was substantial ambient light in the alley; it was not pitch dark:

Adam Castilleja, a special agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) who took the video and photos, testified that there was a streetlight next to the front passenger seat of the officers’ squad. Noor was sitting in the passenger seat.

Castilleja said streetlights extended up the western side of the alley that Noor and Harrity had traveled before the shooting occurred. He described the lighting as ‘low’ and ‘dim,’ but strong enough to illuminate faces so that he was able to identify a former colleague at the scene. Castilleja is a former Minneapolis police officer.

Assistant Hennepin County prosecutor Amy Sweasy followed with:

‘You didn’t need any special light to see [an officer] there?’ she asked.

‘No,’ said Castilleja, who arrived at the scene about 2 a.m. when it was still dark.

Even the dispatcher could not have reasonably believed there was a rape in progress.  Her radio call does not reflect that belief, and Noor and Harrity certainly could not have thought that. Remember too they knew they were in a very low-crime neighborhood. Scott Johnson, of Powerline finally has an assigned press seat in the courtroom.

As is normally the case in a criminal trial, the prosecution began laying the foundation of physical and photographic evidence with law enforcement witnesses, introducing more than 100 photos of the crime scene.  Johnson also commented on the ambient lighting issue:

In his opening statement defense counsel Peter Wold set the scene in the alley as a possible ambush of the officers. He made it sound like the alley was dark as a dungeon.

I was astounded to learn that the alley is lit by streetlights. Justine was shot by Noor under a streetlight at the end of the alley. In his cross-examination of Adam Castilleja, defense counsel Tom Plunkett made the point that one couldn’t read a book by the light cast by the streetlight; the light is too dim. One could only recognize the face of someone you knew.

I have no idea of the impact on the jury, but the photographs of the alley undercut a key defense theme. From my perspective, this was the highlight of yesterday’s evidence, and it was a big one.

Johnson is right. Apparently the defense intends to argue that since it was dark, Noor had more latitude in shooting without cause. Whether pitch black, or noonday sunlight, police officers have the same obligation: to be sure they are facing an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death before shooting.

Substantial light would likely help an officer to identify a threat more quickly, but darkness is no excuse for murder.  Police officers carry flashlights day and night because they need them day and night.  Were Harrity and Noor not blithely aware of their surroundings, they might have had occasion to use the flashlights they both surely carried.  If they were not carrying flashlights, they are blithering incompetents.  The very compact lights available to everyone, not just the police, are inexpensive, and extraordinarily bright, even compared to offerings available only a year or two ago.

Competent police officers do their best never to be caught unaware.  “Head on a swivel,” is a term drilled into them from their first training days.  Harrity—and Noor’s attorney—have admitted they were caught entirely unaware, so even if they had flashlights, they were behind the curve.  Rather than confirm whether a threat actually existed, Noor skipped over his flashlight and went right to his handgun.

It must also be noted that intelligent, tactically smart, officers get out of their cars often at night.  It’s necessary to get away from the glow of computer screens, dash lights, and the lights of various radios and other electronics in their vehicles, lights that interfere with night vision, and can illuminate them if someone is waiting to ambush them.  It also allows their eyes to adjust to the night.  Obviously, Noor and Harrity are not intelligent, tactically smart officers. Such people are rare.

What’s Noor’s excuse going to be?  “I thought I saw a frame, so I shot it”?  Officers need some latitude in the performance of their duties, but killing an innocent has to mean that strict standards of law and performance apply.  If not, citizens who have historically feared the night, will need to fear the police even more.

Moving on to Thursday’s testimony, we see some of the actual reality of police work, courtesy of MPR:  

Minneapolis police officer Scott Aikins didn’t know what was happening as he came upon the scene of a woman dying next to a police car in a Minneapolis alley.

Emergency medical technicians were trying to save Justine Ruszczyk, who was barefoot and in pajamas. Aikins jumped in and held a trauma pad to her wound. But it was too late. With her pupils ‘fixed and dilated,’ the EMTs said they were going to ‘call it.’

Shortly after, Aikins asked aloud, ‘Are we looking for a gun here?’

The answer, he would learn later, was no. The shot had come from officer Mohamed Noor’s gun.

Why would Aikins be looking for a gun?  Because a small, barefoot woman wearing only pajamas had been shot and killed and the only thing near her on the ground was a cell phone.  Other officers were surely wandering about with “oh shit!” deer-in-the- headlights looks plastered on their faces.  Any rational officer would be looking for the criminal that shot her, and wondering why his fellow officers weren’t behaving as competent officers normally would.  We know this because unlike Noor, Harrity, and many others, Aikin’s body camera recorded it.

The video offered a glimpse of the confusion in the alley after the shooting, with Aikins asking repeatedly for an explanation of what happened.

‘Da hell is going on?’ he asked at one point.

The highest ranking officer on the scene experienced similar cognitive dissonance:

Now-Lt. Rick Zimmerman, who oversaw the department’s officer-involved shooting investigations, said he searched for a gun around Ruszczyk’s body when he came to the scene after Noor and his partner officer Matthew Harrity had been brought to City Hall, which is standard procedure in such shootings.

‘My first thought was ‘What the f—? Why isn’t there something here?’ he said in court Thursday. He also recalled being told by a police sergeant that the woman shot and killed in the alley was ‘probably a drunk or a drug addict.’

Not quite.  Damond had no alcohol or drugs in her system.

What was wrong?  Police officers aren’t supposed to kill innocent, unarmed, unthreatening women in alleys.  What these officers were seeing didn’t make sense, until they learned Noor shot her, and it made little more sense then.  They all knew it was a bad shoot, and at least some of them advised Noor to clam up and lawyer up, and even called the Union for him.  In and of itself, that’s not a bad thing.  Were I a police officer involved in any shooting, I wouldn’t have a word to say without the advice and presence of counsel.  These days no officer can be sure he won’t be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency no matter how righteous his actions.  I’d do the same were I involved in a shooting today, and recommend you, gentle readers, do the same.

Friday’s testimony from local station Fox 9 was–disturbing: 

On Friday, Noor’s defense team continued to try to get police witnesses to talk about the importance of relying on their squad partner. Prosecutors responded to one witness, asking, ‘If your partner opened fire in middle of Lake Street. Would you?’ The answer was no.

Good answer.  Everyone is responsible for their own bullets.  One does not shoot unless they are sure it’s necessary and lawful.  That someone else is shooting is irrelevant. I’m sure Matthew Harrity is now glad he adhered to that standard, even if he was too scared to move and Noor was too quick to shoot.

Lt. Dan May was asked why he paired two young, inexperienced officers, Noor and Harrity, together. May said he like having two young, active officers together. Both liked handling the same workload, jumping in to respond to calls. He said they were more productive than older pairings.

May added he had absolutely no safety concerns with Noor and Harrity as partners. He had signed off on giving them access and training to carry the precinct’s most powerful rifle that not everyone gets.

I wonder if Lt. May has had occasion to reflect on his faith in pairing Noor and Harrity?  Perhaps he has also had occasion to reflect on the wisdom of giving “the precinct’s most powerful rifle” to two officers so lacking in situational awareness that one of them shot the first thing he saw when frightened witless?

At least one police supervisor is reported to have testified that ambush was on Noor’s and Harrity’s minds.  Since Noor hasn’t talked, I’m unsure how he could have know that, and such testimony borders on coverup.

More soon.