Minnesota news outlets say it's unconstitutional for a Hennepin County judge to stop reporters and the public from watching video evidence that will show the moments after former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor shot and killed Justine Ruszczyk Damond in 2017.
In a motion filed Tuesday, the coalition of local print and broadcast news organizations say the First Amendment and common law rights of access to criminal trials prohibit Judge Kathryn Quaintance's plan to shield video and photo evidence, including footage captured by police body cameras after the shooting, from public view in the courtroom.
"As this Court is aware, this is a murder trial involving allegations that a Minneapolis police officer shot and killed an unarmed woman while on duty," attorney Leita Walker wrote on behalf of the media collective. "It goes without saying that there is significant public interest in this case, both in Minnesota and around the world. That high degree of interest counsels in favor of greater access to the trial, not less."
The court declined to comment on the motion Tuesday.
Quaintance announced the decision at a pretrial hearing Friday, citing privacy concerns over the public seeing video that shows Damond in "extremely compromising situations."
In the court filing, Walker argues this move will prevent journalists and members of the public from seeing how the jury reacts to the evidence. But it won't accomplish Quaintance's mission to protect the victim's privacy, because the evidence will become available to the public, under Minnesota's public records law, after it is presented to the jury, Walker wrote.
Walker cited a similar dispute in the trial of Colorado movie theater shooter James Holmes, in which prosecutors tried to block the public from viewing crime scene and autopsy photos in the courtroom. The judge determined the wishes for privacy did not outweigh Holmes' right to a public trial or the right of the public and the media to attend open proceedings, and that no court in the United States had ever granted such a request in a homicide case.
The motion also raises constitutional issues with the possibility that Quaintance might prohibit a courtroom sketch artist from drawing certain people during the trial.
Walker called this a "patently unconstitutional prior restraint, impermissibly gagging the artist and the artist's media clients from communicating truthful speech about the prosecution, which is unquestionably a matter of public interest."
The group of media organizations challenging Quaintance's courtroom rules includes the Star Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio, CBS Broadcasting, Tegna and Fox/UTV Holdings.
On Monday, Quaintance and Chief Judge Ivy Bernhardson agreed to add seven more seats, allowing two more for local reporters and five more for national or international outlets.