Prosecutors in the trial of Mohamed Noor on Monday called into question the actions of several police officers as they arrived at the scene of Justine Ruszczyk Damond’s death.
Testimony revealed that two officers broke protocol by turning their body cameras off, and at least one violated crime scene practices because he wasn’t fully informed about the circumstances.
Tensions in the murder trial of the former Minneapolis police officer escalated during the prosecution’s questioning of Chief Medaria Arradondo, who said that the officers should have left their body cameras on. The jurors were shown footage from officers who abruptly turned them off when they got to the scene.
“At the time of this in 2017, would your expectation have been that the body cameras were on?” Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Amy Sweasy asked Arradondo, who was acting chief at the time.
“That is correct,” Arradondo said, adding that the expectations were the same for officers who had drawn their guns, as Noor and his partner, Matthew Harrity, allegedly did when they drove down an alley before encountering Damond.
Prosecutors seemed to take aim at police credibility throughout the day, pointedly asking a high-ranking sergeant why he failed to file a report about the incident despite responding to the scene and speaking with Noor, noting that another lieutenant didn’t turn his body camera on at all. They also pressed the first firefighter at the scene about how he was given little information about what had transpired as he tried in vain to save Damond’s life.
Damond, 40, was killed on July 15, 2017, by a bullet that tore through a major artery and lodged in her spine. Noor and Harrity were responding to her call about a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her south Minneapolis home when Noor fired at her through Harrity’s open driver’s side window.
Arradondo testified that under Minneapolis police’s body camera policy at the time, officers were expected to hit record when conducting traffic stops or “any sorts of contact where an officer believes that there may be an adversarial situation that develops.”
Prosecutors have argued that the fact that Noor and Harrity didn’t activate their cameras until after Damond was shot suggested they were treating the situation as a routine call. The policy has been revised since Damond’s death. It now requires officers to activate the devices in most encounters with the public and when responding to most 911 calls.
But Noor’s attorneys argued that at the time, the program was in its infancy and officers were unfamiliar with the policy and it granted them wide discretion.
Arradondo also told jurors that he didn’t issue any departmentwide directives in response to a recent ambush in New York because he didn’t have any credible evidence that Minneapolis officers were being targeted. The defense’s key argument is that Noor and Harrity had police ambushes on their minds, and acted legally in shooting Damond when they heard a loud noise on their squad.
“Is today the first time you’ve heard the word ‘ambush’ connected to this case?” Sweasy asked.
“That is correct,” he said. He also testified that he hadn’t heard any discussion that night that a slap or a loud noise might have prompted the shooting.
Body camera videos from partners Nicholas Englund and Kyle Mader were played in court showing them drive to the scene.
“The hell’s goin’ on?” one asked as they drove. They testified that the call for backup did not note that it was an officer-involved shooting.
Englund’s video showed him getting out of the squad and speaking with Sgt. Shannon Barnette, the supervisor at the scene, before he walked away to tape off the area.
“Code four,” he said before turning off his body camera. Code four, officers have said, indicates that a scene is safe. Mader’s body camera video showed the drive, and ended nearly as soon as the two arrived and Mader opened his door.
“Thank you, sir, nothing further,” Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Patrick Lofton said when Mader’s video abruptly ended.
Lofton told jurors during opening statements last week to pay attention to how body cameras were used, adding that Barnette turned hers off when she spoke with Noor.
Prosecutors also called Minneapolis firefighter Sam Eininger, who was the first firefighter at the scene with his two partners. Eininger said he took over for an officer performing CPR on Damond. She had no pulse, he testified.
Sweasy asked if more information about what happened would have helped him.
“Yes, it would help,” he said.
Officer Ty Jindra later testified that he arrived at the scene assuming it was an officer-involved shooting, though no one told him immediately. Jindra said no one informed him the shot had been fired from inside the squad, so he went inside the vehicle to look up Noor and Harrity’s last call in order to identify the 911 caller.
Jindra said that had he known, he wouldn’t have entered, because the car was part of a crime scene and had to be preserved.
“No one mentioned that when you were there?” Lofton asked.
“No, not at all,” Jindra said.
Jindra’s turn on the witness stand caused controversy when Lofton tried to address the fact that he and several colleagues refused to meet with Hennepin County attorneys to talk about the case, necessitating a grand jury that forced their participation via subpoenas.
Before Hennepin County District Judge Kathryn Quaintance could excuse jurors to deal with the erupting dispute between prosecutors and defense attorneys, Lofton was able to ask Jindra if he was one of about 20 officers who refused to meet with county attorneys before the grand jury, and whether he attended a meeting convened by the police union to address requests to speak with officers.
Outside the hearing of jurors, Quaintance asked what role Jindra had in answering questions about “this conspiracy.”
“We’re not saying it’s a conspiracy,” Lofton said.
“I was not being sarcastic when I used the term conspiracy…,” the judge said.
“It’s continued prosecutorial misconduct,” said defense attorney Peter Wold. “The suggestion of this conspiracy is reckless.”
Quaintance ruled that prosecutors could not ask about the union meeting, although they could investigate any potential bias.