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Justine Damond

The most substantial news to come out of the second week of testimony in the trial of Mohamed Noor in the death of Justine Damond is Noor’s testimony, but close behind it, is the—by all accounts—effective testimony of the State’s two use of force experts, who explained, exactly as I have done, how very wrong Noor was.  I don’t say this to pat myself on the back, but in recognition that the law of the use of deadly force is clear and concise.  Any competent professional would know beyond any possible doubt that Noor had no lawful justification for shooting Damond.

Tuesday (via Scott Jonson at Powerline):

 BCA Agent Chris Olson testified again, confirming yet again the shoddy investigation by the BCA, including failing to try to determine who might have been making noise in the alley, which caused Damond to call the police.  Olson also testified he got the car slapping idea from MPD Sgt. Shannon Barnette.

On cross-examination, defense counsel Tom Plunkett suggested , or followed up on Olson’s suggestion, that the noise Justine heard might have been raccoons. I thought this was ridiculous, but so what if they were? I’m probably missing something, but that’s my reaction.

Johnson is not missing anything.  Plunkett was trying to distract the jury from the real, the only, issue in the case.

BCA Agent Brent Peterson eventually took over the case, and apparently handled it at least somewhat professionally.

Wednesday (via MPR and Powerline):

Use of force expert Lt. Derrick Hacker, who according to Scott Johnson has an “incredible” resume, testified first.  Unsurprisingly, he testified, without the slightest variance, that Noor’s use of deadly force was unjustified.  There was no justification to shoot an unarmed woman, barefoot and in her pajamas, who was merely trying to speak with the police she called for help. Johnson:  

After Hacker the prosecution called Timothy Longo, Sr. Longo is a nationally renowned expert. I was impressed that the prosecution found him to work on this case. He served, most recently, as the chief of police of the city of Charlottesville. He is now creating a master’s degree program on police issues for the University of Virginia while teaching as an adjunct professor teaching the police use of force at the University of Virginia Law School. You can get a glimpse (and I mean a glimpse) of his background at his law school page here.

Longo was even more impressive and compelling than Hacker, and his testimony even more damaging to the defense:

He emphasized that Harrity’s startled reaction to the alleged slap on the squad and silhouette to his left could not have warranted the use of deadly force by Harrity or Noor. Peter [defense] was unable to dent this judgment.

The defense made the neophyte mistake of asking a question to which they did not know the answer:

Peter tried to make the point that Longo had never had to make the split-second life or death decision that Noor had to make. Longo went into impressive detail on three such incidents in which he had chosen not to shoot.

Thank God, competent officers take the time to be sure before shooting.  Were Noor the reasonableness standard, the death toll of innocents would be astronomical.  From MPR:

A police use-of-force expert testified Wednesday that Mohamed Noor violated his police training the night he shot 911 caller Justine Ruszczyk and that ‘no reasonable police officer’ would have perceived Ruszczyk as a threat as she approached the squad in her pajamas.

Ruszczyk ‘did nothing wrong’ that night in the alley by her home, Crystal police Lt. Derrick Hacker told the court as he testified for the prosecution. ‘Police are approached daily. This happens routinely.’

Longo described it [Noor’s actions] as a ‘shoot first, ask questions later mentality.’

Hacker said he believes from his analysis of evidence that Noor had his gun out as he and his partner, officer Matthew Harrity, drove through the alley and that Ruszczyk was 4 feet from their squad vehicle when she was shot.

This too is damaging to the defense:

Hacker told the court Wednesday that being startled doesn’t justify deadly force, and that an officer must first have to identify an actual threat.

‘The most reasonable force in this situation would have been no force at all,’ he said. [skip]

Longo, the prosecution’s second use-of-force expert called Noor’s use of deadly force ‘unreasonable, unnecessary and disproportionate to any perceived threat.’

Longo dismissed the idea that Rusczcyk was somehow at fault for approaching the police vehicle.

‘At the end of the day,’ he said of Ruszczyk, ‘this is a citizen who called the police seeking a public service, who has every right to go out (to the squad) and be sure that her community is safe.’

The prosecution rested its case after Longo. 

Thursday (From MPR and Powerline):

As one might expect, the defense allowed Noor to portray himself as a sympathetic refugee/immigrant whose only desire was to serve Minneapolis, the city he loves.

Noor brought up a time at training when he was hit by a paintball. ‘The most important takeaway for me is actions are better than reactions,’ he said.

Asked Plunkett: ‘So the point is, if you don’t do your job correctly, you get killed?’

Noor responded, ‘Yes, sir.’

What Noor should have learned is to be smarter, use better tactics, be aware, well trained and fast.  Everything the defense is doing suggests they’ll actually argue that police officers must shoot first, fast and always if they have the slightest fear or inkling they might possibly be in danger.  They also continue to try to suggest Noor and Harrity were in danger of an ambush, despite the judge’s continued attempts to prevent it.

Getting to the heart of it, Noor testified that he heard a loud bang. Previously known as a ‘slap’ or a ‘thump,’ it has grown like Topsy.

Noor saw Harrity look out the driver’s side, shout ‘Oh, Jesus,’ fumble to unholster his gun and look at Noor with terror in his eyes. Noor then pulled his gun, reached his left arm across Harrity’s body and held him back as he looked out and saw a woman with blonde hair wearing a pink t-shirt.

This directly contradicts Harrity’s testimony in important ways.  Harrity testified he drew his handgun and held in in a sort of ready position, not pointed at Damond.  He said nothing about Noor touching him or reaching out with his left hand, and said nothing about looking at Noor.  In fact, his first notice of Noor was after he heard the report and saw the flash of Noor’s handgun, yet Noor testified he saw “terror” in Harrity’s eyes.  In addition, Harrity saw nothing but a “silhouette,”
despite being much closer to Damond than Noor.

Noor says he saw Justine raise her right arm, but did not see her hand. He saw no weapon. He nevertheless deemed her a ‘threat,’ as he called her, and fired one shot at her.

Noor testified that he fired because he perceived his partner to be in fear of death or great bodily harm. He feared death or great bodily harm based on what he saw of his partner and of Justine combined.

As I’ve repeatedly written, this is ludicrous.  Noor saw Justine clearly and was even able to determine the color of her hair and pajamas, and saw nothing in her hand, nothing that could have represented an actual threat.  Yet, as startled and terrified as Harrity, because both of them were entirely unaware of their surroundings, he killed her.  He might have claimed an accidental discharge, but didn’t.  His admissions should tell the complete story for any rational jury.  This is additionally damning:

Noor made the stoner bicyclist sound like he may have been part of an impending police ambush. Noor testified that he saw the bicyclist stop in the street in front of him just before the loud bang. (The bicyclist testified he kept moving by the police because he didn’t want to get stopped with weed on him. I think I believe the bicyclist.) Were it not for the tragedy, this aspect of the defense would be laughable. Ambush in southwest Minneapolis, the safest neighborhood in the city.

A main thrust of Noor’s carefully rehearsed testimony was he was relying on his training. Presumably that training did not include shooting based only on vague impressions without the slightest confirmation of a deadly threat.

In Sergeant Barnette’s bodycam video, Noor is seated in a squad car after the incident, waiting to be taken to City Hall. In the silent (buffering) portion of the video, he can be seen demonstrating how he aimed his gun and shot out the open window on the driver’s side. It doesn’t match his testimony. He testified he doesn’t recall what he was doing in the video.

Friday (From MPR):

As he finished his testimony Friday, defense attorney Thomas Plunkett asked Noor what would have happened if Ruszczyk had a gun in her hand when raising her arm. ‘My partner would have been killed,’ he replied.

Sweasy pressed Noor on why he turned his body camera on at previous calls that day including business alarm, but not on a report of a woman screaming. Noor said he didn’t see it as a ‘serious call … for us, it was a typical night.’

But of course, Harrity would not have been killed, because Damond had no gun, represented no threat at al,l and Noor fired on sight, having no idea if she were a threat. By that standard, Officers may shoot at anypotential–not real–threat. They have no duty to be sure. Noor also admitted he saw no danger, no threat of ambush in the call.  It was a “typical night,” and a routine call in the safest neighborhood in Minneapolis, which is precisely what I’ve been writing.  They were totally relaxed, unaware, which is why he and Harrity were so oblivious to their surroundings Noor shot an innocent woman who merely wanted to talk to him.  Noor also testified that he had his window “cracked”–down only a tiny bit—also indicating he expected no danger.  He also again contradicted Harrity, testifying Damond made no sound before he shot her.

The greatest shame is he did become a cop.

The defense presented its sole use of force expert. Also from MPR:  

If it appears as a deadly threat, the officer is trained to treat it like a deadly threat,’ Emanuel Kapelsohn told the court, adding that it’s not practical for an officer to try to give commands or drive away in that situation. ”The words can’t come out of the officer’s mouth before they get shot,” he said.

Unless, of course, there was no threat.  Kapelsohn called the shooting “objectively reasonable.” Were Kapelson truly expert, he could not honestly say that.  If Kapelsohn is right, and I’ve repeatedly made this point, police officers need no justification for shooting and killing innocents other than that they were frightened out of their wits because they were too complacent to be aware of their surroundings.  They need not bother with such trifles as actually trying to determine if there is an actual threat.  If they think they’re in danger, regardless of how wrong they are, regardless of how many bodies they leave behind then they go home after their shift, they’re entirely reasonable and justified in shooting.

Every day, around the nation, officers are faced with situations that might turn dangerous any second.  Were former officer Noor walking down a street and a man approaching him reached into his suit coat as though to draw a gun from a shoulder holster, would Noor be justified in killing him?  By Noor’s reasoning, and that of Kapelsohn, he absolutely would.  Noor would do that, but thousands of officers know that their training requires certainty, and if they’re not certain, they don’t shoot,even if it means they might be injured.  Hundreds of thousands of Americans, perhaps millions, are alive because they were fortunate never to have approached cops like Mohamed Noor.

Mohamed Noor (center)

At the end of Friday, the Defense rested its case.  They appear to be banking on Leftist Sympathy for Noor, who is a trifecta of social justice: Black, Somali/immigrant and Muslim.  There was apparently no testimony touching on his religion, but it’s unlikely anyone in the Twin Cities is unaware of his faith–his first name is, after all, Mohamed–and connection to a protected, favored victim status community.  It’s likely the Prosecution will produce a rebuttal witness or two, and then closing arguments.

I’ll produce a summation of the evidence after closing arguments are done, Monday or Tuesday.

Final Thoughts:

I’ll provide an example I’ve used in the past to illustrate that competent officers do not shoot people without cause.  One night I was sent to a call where a woman’s estranged husband was at her home, trying to get in and refusing to leave.  When I arrived, he was sitting in his car in the driveway, the door locked, the window up.  I took a position at, and slightly behind his door, and asked him to roll down the window and provide identification.  He did neither, but sat there, pretending not to hear me.  He was clearly aware of my presence, but strangely calm.  I had no doubt he was working up to something; I just wasn’t sure what.

After a few minutes of this, he leaned forward, reached behind him with his right hand, and pulled out a black object. He did it exactly as one would if fast-drawing a handgun, and he held it as though gripping a handgun as he thrust it forward as though pointing a handgun.

While simultaneously leaping back and closer to the vehicle to make his firing angle worse, and simultaneously drawing my handgun, I yelped, an octave higher than usual, “gun!”to my back up officer. I went to low ready so I could clearly see what he was doing, and took the extra fractions of a second necessary to clearly identify what he had in his hand: a black wallet.

I started breathing again, and in my normal register I told my back up, who was also approaching at low ready—he had been speaking with the wife at her front door—and we finally got the guy out. He was trying to commit suicide by cop. He knew exactly what he was doing, and expected me to shoot him.  I took him in on an involuntary mental health commitment.

If I fired, I would have been entirely justified.  Any reasonable officer in that situation would have believed he was facing an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death.  But because I was highly skilled with my handgun, because I was intensely aware of my surroundings, because I had many years of experience, and because I used good tactics, I could afford to take those fractions of a second necessary to determine the man was no threat. That, and long before, I decided I’d rather take a bullet than wrongfully kill an innocent. Death is light as a feather, living with even a justified killing is forever debilitating to those with a conscience.  He wanted to end his life; I saved it.

Consider that–and the professionalism and restraint of thousands of other police officers, who, unlike Noor, could have lawfully fired, but needed to be sure–in comparison to Mohamed Noor.