A Hennepin County prosecutor has asked a judge to withhold evidence from the public related to the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor.
A week and a half after a jury found Noor guilty, Assistant County Attorney Amy Sweasy has filed a motion arguing court exhibits such as crime-scene photographs and police body camera footage should be kept private, invoking an obligation to safeguard the court process and rights of the victim and Noor as the case heads to sentencing.
“While there is a general right of the public to inspect and copy public records and court documents, that right is not absolute,” wrote Sweasy.
The motion is the latest in pursuits to keep secret aspects of this case that are routinely made public. Judge Kathryn Quaintance has also indefinitely sealed the identities of the jurors. Leading up to the trial, Quaintance said she planned to prohibit the public and media from viewing key body-camera evidence in the courtroom, which contained graphic images of Justine Ruszczyk Damond’s last moments. Quaintance reversed herself after a coalition of media outlets, including the Star Tribune, argued the restriction would violate the First Amendment and common-law access to open trials.
Several news outlets, including the Star Tribune, have requested copies of the trial evidence.
“We have significant questions about the investigation into this shooting, a case in which the prosecutor himself said missteps were committed by police and the [Bureau of Criminal Apprehension],” said Suki Dardarian, managing editor for the Star Tribune. “Yet without access to the investigative reports and evidence, it’s difficult for the public or media to identify where and why the criminal justice system faltered. That’s not how democracy works.”
Leita Walker, the attorney who represented the media coalition, said she is pursuing avenues to respond.
“The Star Tribune and other media organizations in the Twin Cities and across the country continue to closely follow the proceedings in this case,” said Walker. “They’re concerned that in one of the highest-profile police shooting cases in the country that there’s an effort to keep the public from seeing the evidence that was presented to the jury. We are considering all of our options.”
Nancy Cassutt, executive director of news and programming for Minnesota Public Radio, said the “very high-profile case” has implications for taxpayers.
“Our view at MPR News is that the more information and transparency we all have into the evidence and information laid out in the case, the better we are able to serve our audiences,” Cassutt said. “And that’s why we’re asking to be heard on this issue.”
In the motion, Sweasy argues there is “significant potential for misuse” if the evidence were to be released to the public. She said the body-camera footage contains graphic images that could be released without context “for any number of purposes, some of which could be exploitative at best.”
“Ms. Ruszczyk’s family and the defendant have a right to expect that the exhibits introduced at trial will remain properly safeguarded as their very admissibility may be the subject of future legal proceedings,” she wrote.
Sweasy filed her motion after Quaintance asked both parties if they had an opinion on whether the court should release copies of the evidence. Noor’s defense team doesn’t have a position, said attorney Peter Wold.
By contrast, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension — the state agency that investigates officer-involved shootings in Minnesota — released evidence in the shooting of Philando Castile within a few days of a jury finding the officer not guilty. That cache of evidence also included graphic images of the fatal shooting and autopsy images of Castile.