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Justine Damond rescuing ducklings

The case is over–04-29-19–and it’s in the hands of the jury.  From what I’ve been able to find, the closing arguments were conventional and predictableThe prosecution stuck to the law and the evidence, and focused on Justin Damond’s innocence and death.  The Defense ran with emotion, and even brought race and diversity into it, at least by implication.  Poor Mohamed feels bad and he’ll have to live with it the rest of his life.  He’s really, really sorry.  It was a tragedy, not a crime.

I’m not an attorney, but I’m going to play one for the rest of this piece. So hang on as I deliver my closing, prosecution argument, using what I’ve been able to glean, and omitting specific points of law.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury.  There is one issue before you: would a reasonable police officer—any competent, professional police officer—have shot and killed Justine Damond?  It’s that simple.  If not, Mohamed Noor is guilty as charged.

You have seen and heard all the evidence. You know that on July 15, 2017, Justine Damond called the Minneapolis Police to report a woman who might have been in distress somewhere behind her home.  You know the dispatcher told Officers Harrity and Noor only that it was a noise complaint.  We know this not only because of direct testimony, but because if it had been a rape in progress, many officers would have sped to the scene, and that just didn’t happen.  We also know Noor considered it a routine call in a routine night in the safest neighborhood in Minneapolis.  We know because he told us.

Mohamed Noor

The honorable attorneys for the defense would have you believe Harrity and Noor feared an ambush.  They have repeatedly raised this theme, and repeatedly been admonished by Judge Quaintance, who has ruled there was no ambush.  The evidence—including Mohamed Noor’s testimony–reveals the officers had no fear of ambush.  Instead of parking their vehicle, and walking the alley, where they could hear and see everything, where they could use cover and concealment, they merely turned off their lights, and rolled down the alley.  Harrity’s window was down, but Noor testified his was only “cracked,” which means down a few inches, if that much.  Their vision and hearing were limited, their vehicle, a bullet magnet. These are not the actions of officers that believe their lives are in imminent danger.

At the end of the alley, they stopped for a passing bicyclist.  Harrity was already thinking of the next call.  Noor testified he thought the bicyclist was trying to block them, and intended to give him a piece of his mind.  You will recall, ladies and gentlemen, the bicyclist testified he was stoned, and spotting the officer’s SUV, was determined to pass them as quickly as possible because he was carrying marijuana and didn’t want anything to do with them.  He also testified he could clearly see them from at least a half block away.  There was no testimony that when they stopped, they continued to look around and behind them, because they did not.

These are not the actions of officers expecting an ambush.

They testified they saw and heard nothing, and when they stopped at the end of the alley, on a routine call on a routine night in a safe neighborhood, their minds were elsewhere.  They knew there was no danger.  They knew no one was about to ambush them.  They relaxed, and they had no idea of their surroundings.

Because they were oblivious, when Justine Damond, barefoot, in her pajamas, carrying only a cell phone, approached Officer Harrity’s window, he was terrified, more frightened than he had ever been in his police career.  He, and Noor, were caught completely unaware.  They weren’t expecting trouble, and Justine Damond wasn’t trouble; she was the honest citizen who reported a woman who might have been in distress, and all she did was to try to speak with the officers she called.

No reasonable police officer, no reasonable person, could have thought her a threat.

She has been shamefully blamed for her death. She shouldn’t have approached the officers.  If that’s true, if citizens reporting possible crimes cannot approach police officers without fearing for their lives…

The honorable defense would have you believe it was very dark in that alley, and that darkness somehow excuses Mohamed Noor’s actions.  But you have heard testimony that establishes there was a streetlight close by, and there was sufficient light not only to identify people at a distance, but to read.  Mr. Noor testified that he knew he was shooting a blond woman; he identified the color of her pink pajamas and says he saw her arm move.  Even if it were too dark to see anything, that would require more care on the part of the officers, not less.

You have been encouraged to believe Justine Damond “slapped” or “thumped” the SUV, “spooking” the officers.  Credible testimony has established this didn’t happen.  Harrity and Noor said no such thing that night. If it were truly a factor, and if it, as the defense would have you believe, somehow excuses Noor’s actions, wouldn’t they have mentioned it then, rather than three days later?

But what about a slap appearing in a BCA warrant that night?  What about Sgt. Barnett telling BCA agents about it that night?  You have heard testimony that investigators couldn’t understand what happened.  How could an officer have possibly shot someone from inside the SUV?  They could see no evidence to explain why Mohamed Noor shot and killed Justine Damond.  It wasn’t adding up, and in situations like that, officers often speak their thoughts out loud, trying to rationalize, trying to explain the unexplainable.  That’s where the “slap” or “thump” came from.

Two of Justine Damond’s neighbors testified they heard something that sounded like a plastic garbage can falling over.  Is that what striking a metal SUV sounds like?  Perhaps they heard something, or perhaps, later hearing of the shooting, they were trying to fill in blanks.  “Oh, that’s what that noise must have been!”  Or perhaps they are confusing something they heard on some other night.  There was no evidence that Justine Damond had any contact with the SUV.

But that too, like the issue of light, doesn’t matter.  Even if she did contact the SUV in some way, the officers, if they were expecting an ambush, should have been sufficiently aware of their surroundings to see her approach.  They should not have been spooked or terrified by it.  Competent, professional officers should never have been “spooked” by a noise.  It could never be, in any way, justification for taking her life.

Justine Damond, barefoot, in her pajamas, concerned for the welfare of an unknown woman, approached Officer Harrity’s window. You’ve heard testimony that this occurs every day, everywhere, and even if you hadn’t heard that testimony, you know it’s true.  Perhaps you’ve done it yourself, and you lived.  Justine Damond did not.

When she appeared at that window, Harrity thought she said something, perhaps a mumble, Noor heard nothing.  Harrity was so frightened he exclaimed something in fear. That’s about the only thing on which he and Noor agree. Harrity said he drew his handgun and held it in a sort of ready position.  Noor claims Harrity was struggling with his handgun and never drew it.  That’s why he shot Justine Damond, to protect his partner from deadly danger—he said.  He told you if he had not done so, Harrity would have been killed.

The defense would have you believe this makes Mohamed Noor a hero.

Harrity said he heard a report and saw a flash, and saw Justine Damond holding her abdomen in surprise.  She said “I’m dying,” or “I’m dead.”  Noor said Officer Harrity was absolutely terrified—he saw it in his eyes–and couldn’t get his gun out of his holster.  He clearly saw Justine Damond, saw her arm move, and shot her, reaching out with his left arm to “protect” officer Harrity as he thrust his gun toward Justine Damond, firing it in officer Harrity’s face.  Officer Harrity’s testimony was very different. There was no protecting arm, he drew his handgun without difficulty, and he never said he looked at Mohamed Noor.

Mohamed Noor testified he did not see Justine Damond’s hands.  He never saw them; he had no idea if she was a threat, yet because Officer Harrity was “spooked,” he felt the need to shoot her.  He never identified a threat.  He had the time and opportunity.  There was more than enough light, but he shot her anyway. Why would any reasonable police officer do something like this?

Mr. Noor testified that during training, he was hit by a paintball, and from this experience, he learned that action beats reaction.  From that point, he decided to shoot first.  What he should have learned is to be aware of his surroundings, to be skillful, to understand that not everyone is a deadly threat, and to be certain that there is a real, imminent threat before shooting.  But he didn’t learn any of that.  He learned to shoot first, and he did.

You are instructed to judge Mohamed Noor’s actions on what he reasonably should have known that night in that alley. This is the proper, the lawful standard, because before any police officer shoots, he must be able to explain the clear observations that convinced him, that would convince any competent, professional police officer, they faced an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death, and had to shoot, that very second.

Mohamed Noor testified he saw no threat.  He never saw Justine Damond’s hands.  He never so much as saw her cell phone.  He just saw a blonde woman in pink pajamas standing at the door, so he shot her.  He tries to excuse her death by saying Officer Harrity was frightened, and because he had not seen him that way before, decided Harrity was in deadly danger.  But he had no idea what that danger might be.  He saw no weapon.  He saw no threatening actions.  He heard no threatening words.  He did not, for a moment, think she could be the person who made the call, who caused him to be there that night.  He saw, for fractions of a second, Justine Damond, and he killed her.

He, with help of able counsel, has argued that he had to shoot, immediately, without knowing any of that, without seeing any actual threat.  Action is faster than reaction.  If he didn’t shoot when he did, Officer Harrity might be dead.  He completely misread Officer Harrity.  He saw no threat from Justine Damond, he, like Noor, were so unaware of their surroundings, Justine Damond’s appearance scared them both senseless.  Noor fired because he and Harrity were riding an adrenalin rush of unreasoning fear, not because Harrity saw anything dangerous.

When two police officers were oblivious to their surroundings, when an entirely harmless, non-threatening woman, barefoot and in her pajamas, approached their SUV, and when one was thinking about rousting a stoned bicyclist–if you believe that–instead of where he was and what was happening around him, Justine Damond died.

Minutes before she died, Justine Damond told her fiancé the police were there.  She had every reason to be relieved, to think that a good, comforting thing.  She was wrong, and thanks to Mohamed Noor, it’s going to take a long, long time before Minneapolis residents are glad to see the police.

I was going to thank God that more innocent citizens—people reporting crimes—that dared to approach police vehicles have not been killed, but I’m wrong.  Why should we, for a second, think innocently approaching police officers could be fatal? Reasonable police officers, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, do not shoot without being sure, without identifying an actual threat.  That’s why all those people are still alive, and that’s why Justine Damond is not: Mohamed Noor was not a reasonable police officer.  Even Matthew Harrity, who told you he drew his gun and was ready to use it, waited those absolutely necessary fractions of a second to be sure he had to use it, and he did not.  He was as surprised and stunned by Noor’s shot as Justine Damond.

You’ve heard the expert testimony.  Mohamed Noor did not act reasonably.  No reasonable police officer in his place that night would have shot Justine Damond.  Matthew Harrity was closer to her, and he did not shoot.

We all know police work is difficult.  We want to support our police officers, and honor their many sacrifices.  But when they make mistakes, they must face the consequences no less than we do. When their mistakes cost lives, justice requires no less.

If what Mohamed Noor did is reasonable, if it’s what we should demand of any professional, competent police officer, if that’s really what police officers are trained to do, if that’s what we should expect when we approach a police vehicle, find him not guilty.  But if his actions were not reasonable, and the evidence proves beyond any doubt they were not, there is only one possible verdict for the sake of Justine Damond, for us all and for the sake of justice: guilty.