MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed an unarmed woman who approached his squad car minutes after calling 911 was caught up in “a perfect storm” of events but “acted as he was trained,” his attorney argued Monday.
Prosecutors countered that Mohamed Noor was responsible for “a tragic event of his own making” in 2017 when he shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a life coach who had called 911 when she heard a possible rape in the alley behind her home. They urged jurors to find Noor guilty on all counts.
The case went to the jury almost a month after jury selection began in a catastrophic shooting that prompted anger and disbelief in the U.S. and abroad.
Noor, who was fired after he was charged , faces two counts of murder and one of manslaughter. The jury broke for the day Monday evening without a quick verdict and was to return Tuesday morning. Jurors are sequestered until reaching a verdict.
Noor’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, launched his closing by banging on his lectern, shouting a profanity and yelling, “Pow!”
Plunkett was recreating testimony by Noor that he heard a loud bang right before Damond approached his squad car, followed by his partner swearing and struggling to pull out his gun. Noor testified he saw Damond raise her right arm before he fired.
“It’s the perfect storm,” Plunkett said. “That is the whole case.”
He urged jurors to look at the precise moment of the shooting, without the benefit of hindsight, and consider whether a reasonable officer would do the same thing when confronted by the same factors as Noor.
“Mr. Noor acted as he was trained. He acted as a reasonable police officer,” Plunkett said.
Earlier, prosecutor Amy Sweasy attacked Noor’s credibility and questioned his claim that he and partner Matthew Harrity heard a loud noise that startled them just before a woman appeared at Harrity’s window. Noor testified that he saw a woman raise her arm and he fired to save Harrity’s life.
Sweasy reminded jurors of the chaotic aftermath of the shooting, with responding officers trying to figure out what had happened. She said that’s when the notion of a loud bang emerged, calling it a theory that took on a life of its own.
She noted that neither Noor nor Harrity mentioned the bang at the scene, with Harrity first talking about it three days later in an interview with a state investigator, and pointed out that Damond’s fingerprints were not found on the squad car.
“There is no conclusive proof she ever touched that car,” Sweasy said.
Neither officer had their body cams turned on until after the shooting and there was no dash cam video, either.
She also took issue with Noor’s testimony that he saw fear in Harrity’s eyes as Damond appeared at the window, that Harrity said “Oh Jesus!” and that Harrity was struggling to pull his gun when Noor fired.
“Whatever Harrity said or did, it was not a command for the defendant to shoot and kill Ms. Ruszczyk,” Sweasy said.
Noor faces three counts, including second-degree intentional murder, which is the most serious, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. For the intentional murder count, Sweasy said, Noor knew he was shooting at a person, intended to shoot at her, and knew death would result. She said Noor put his finger on the trigger, aimed and shot Damond — with the intent of stopping the threat.
Both Plunkett and Sweasy explained that officers are authorized to use deadly force to protect themselves or someone else from apparent death or great bodily harm. The standard that must be applied is whether a reasonable police officer would use the same level of force in the same situation, without the benefit of hindsight.
Plunkett said Noor made an objectively reasonable decision, and it ended up being a tragedy, not a crime.
“Regardless of your decision, Mr. Noor is going to have to live with the fact that he took an innocent life,” Plunkett told the jury.
After closings, Judge Kathryn Quaintance dismissed alternate jurors, leaving a jury of 10 men and two women. Half the jurors, including both women, are people of color.
The death of Damond, 40, a life coach who was engaged to be married a month after the shooting, sparked outrage in both the U.S. and Australia, cost Minneapolis’ police chief her job and contributed to the electoral defeat of the city’s mayor a few months later.
Noor, 33, is a Somali American who became a police officer with a mid-career switch from jobs in the business world. He broke more than 1½ years of silence about the shooting when he testified in his defense last week, saying he became a police officer because he “wanted to serve.”
His hiring two years before the shooting was celebrated by Minneapolis leaders as a sign of a diversifying police force in a city with a large population of Somali immigrants.
Neither officer had a body camera running when Damond was shot, something Harrity blamed on what he called a vague policy that didn’t require it. The department toughened the policy after Damond’s death to require that the cameras be turned on when responding to a call.
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