A Hennepin County judge ordered that the public may make copies of exhibits from the trial of ex-Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, although some police body camera videos that captured the aftermath of Justine Ruszczyk Damond’s fatal shooting must be altered.
Other evidence presented in the trial of Noor, who killed Damond in 2017, can be copied as it was shown in court, Judge Kathryn Quaintance wrote in an order issued Wednesday.
Five body camera videos of the crime scene must be redacted by state officials to blur Damond’s face, partial nudity and her vocalizations immediately after she was shot.
A coalition of media partners last week asked the judge to allow both public viewing and copying of the approximately 300 trial exhibits.
Noor’s monthlong trial and the weeks afterward have been marked by extensive legal fights over public access between the court and media coalition.
The judge gave the state until June 10 to produce the altered videos. The unaltered versions of the videos and all other evidence presented at trial will be made available for public viewing Friday.
“The Court acknowledges that there is a presumption in favor of copying exhibits received in the course of a criminal trial,” the judge wrote.
But, the judge noted, the court also has to protect against the misuse of evidence and has to “maintain the integrity of the trial exhibits for any appellate review or other future proceeding.”
“The Court finds that there is potential for exploitation of that material for improper purposes should it be released,” she wrote regarding select body camera videos. “The images of the decedent’s bare breasts, of her face in distress, as well as the sounds of her gasping for breath, moaning, and vomiting, are of limited value for the accurate reporting purposes. … It would tend to promote sensationalism or cater to prurient interests, and it is the Court’s supervisory role to avoid those uses of judicial records.”
The videos in question were recorded by Noor, his partner, Matthew Harrity, and some of the first officers that arrived as backup — Scott Aikins, Thomas Fahey and Ty Jindra.
Early on, Quaintance ruled that some body camera videos and autopsy photos would be shown in court on a TV with its back turned to reporters and others in a public gallery, garnering backlash from the media and public, including Damond’s friends and neighbors.
The judge reversed that stance after a legal challenge. The court also agreed — after criticism from the media and public — to add extra seats in the trial courtroom and an overflow room streaming a live feed of the proceedings.
Prosecutors urged the judge to withhold public viewing of the evidence because of Noor’s pending June 7 sentencing and a possible appeal. Jurors convicted Noor on April 30 of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Quaintance wrote that prosecutors’ stance on the matter was “overbroad” and did not cite cases where courts had denied access to copying evidence.
Noor’s defense team did not weigh in on the issue.
“The possibility of a new trial on remand remains hypothetical,” the judge wrote of the prosecution’s concerns. “In the event of a remand, the Court does not anticipate significant difficulty in selecting a new jury. There was extensive press coverage prior to the trial, and it turned out that the Court did not need to draw a larger jury pool than usual to seat a panel.”
Quaintance said the media’s right to copy trial exhibits is established by case law that grants the courts some discretion and is not a First Amendment right.
A Hennepin County court spokesman said the office would make “every effort” to provide copies of requested evidence, with the exception of the five body camera videos, by Friday.