A federal judge has dismissed former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor and two of his police colleagues as defendants in a lawsuit accusing them of forcibly removing a woman from her home and taking her to a hospital for a mental health evaluation.
But in dropping the officers from the suit, U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen deemed the Minneapolis Police Department’s policy on mental health holds — which allows for the involuntary detainment of people suspected of mental illness — unconstitutional.
“The Court agrees that the MPD policy is unconstitutional because the reasonable belief standard clearly contravenes the Fourth Amendment,” Ericksen wrote in an order filed Friday in federal court. “As discussed above, federal case law overwhelmingly establishes that probable cause is required to seize someone in the mental health context.”
Also named in the suit were Sgt. Shannon L. Barnette and officer Amanda Sanchez. The city of Minneapolis remains a defendant.
Noor achieved international notoriety for the fatal shooting of Justine Damond Ruszczyk from inside his police SUV after responding to her 911 call about a possible rape in the alley behind her southwest Minneapolis home in July 2017. He was later fired from the department and charged with Damond’s murder, becoming the first police officer statewide in recent memory to be charged with murder for an on-duty killing.
His criminal trial is set for April 1, 2019.
Noor’s criminal defense lawyer, Thomas Plunkett, declined to comment on Friday.
Weeks before Damond’s death, Teresa Graham filed a lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis and the three officers, saying that they had violated her constitutional rights when they entered her house in May 2017 and transported her to Fairview Southdale Hospital for an involuntary mental health evaluation. Police argued that they acted appropriately, citing Graham’s mental health history, an allegation that she had previously threatened a family member and the fact that she had repeatedly called 911 the same day, appearing agitated and aggressive.
The judge affirmed qualified immunity for the officers, saying that Graham met the department’s criteria for a mental health hold. But, she found that the department’s policy, which allows officers to seize individuals based on a reasonable belief that they are a threat to themselves or others — a “less exacting standard than probable cause” — runs afoul of the Fourth Amendment.
“[A] reasonable juror could find that the officers did not have probable cause that Graham was in danger of harming herself or others if not immediately detained,” she wrote.
She also dismissed Graham’s allegations that the officers used excessive force and conspired to deprive her of her constitutional rights.
When reached for comment, Graham’s attorney, Jordan Kushner, said that he had mixed feelings about the judge’s decision, but that overall he felt pleased that the case was going to trial.
“It gives her the opportunity to have her day in court, over the most important constitutional violation that took place, although not all of the violations,” he said. “The part we disagree with, the facts weren’t stated correctly — the police behavior was more egregious than was described.”
The Police Department on Friday referred questions to the city attorney’s office, whose spokesman didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.
The city has fought successfully to seal many of the exhibits in the case, including Noor’s deposition. A settlement conference between the two sides on Dec. 4 ended without an agreement in place.
Noor still faces a separate $50 million lawsuit filed by Damond’s father, which accuses him and his former partner, Matthew Harrity, of conspiring to cover up evidence of the shooting by failing to turn on their body cameras and by later hiding behind a “blue wall of silence” as the case was being investigated.
That suit, in which the city is also a co-defendant, is on hold pending the criminal trial.