Prosecutors in the murder trial of Mohamed Noor assailed a Minneapolis police sergeant for what they called investigative and procedural missteps, along with inconsistencies in testimony after Justine Ruszczyk Damond’s fatal shooting.
Hennepin County attorneys continued to craft a picture of police secrecy surrounding Damond’s death with their questioning of Sgt. Shannon Barnette, whom they pinned as the source of a key investigative detail that hasn’t been substantiated by any of the other 27 witnesses who have testified to date — reports of a slap on the squad vehicle before the shooting.
Barnette, who managed the shooting scene, testified that she never asked Noor about the incident, even though department policy requires supervisors to take a statement from officers involved about how a shot was fired, among other details.
“I didn’t think — feel — I needed to,” Barnette said, adding that she had already spoken to Noor’s partner, Matthew Harrity, at the scene.
Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Amy Sweasy asked if it was possible that she could have learned different details had she spoken to Noor.
“It’s a possibility,” Barnette said.
Noor fatally shot Damond, 40, on July 15, 2017, when he and Harrity responded to her 911 call about a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her south Minneapolis home.
Barnette — Noor and Harrity’s supervisor that night — has loomed large as a figure in the trial. Prosecutors specifically called her out in their opening statements last week as someone whose intermittent body camera usage spoke to a larger pattern of possible obfuscation. Lt. Richard Zimmerman, the head of homicide, previously testified that she told him at the scene that Damond was “probably a drunk or a drug addict,” which prosecutors did not investigate.
Prosecutors played three body camera videos that Barnette recorded at the scene.
The first clip showed her driving to the scene. She exited her vehicle, told an approaching officer, “I’m on,” and turned her camera off.
“Why did you turn it off?” Sweasy asked.
“I don’t know,” Barnette said. “I can’t answer that.”
The second clip showed her approaching the driveway where Damond lay after a bullet tore through a major artery and lodged in her spine, killing her nearly instantly. Barnette spoke with Harrity as she tried to understand the circumstances and locate Noor.
“She just came outta nowhere,” Harrity said of Damond. “On the side of the thing and we both got spooked. I had my gun out. I didn’t fire. And then Noor pulled out and fired.”
Barnette testified that it was the only conversation she had with Harrity that night. She added that from their brief exchange, she assumed the shot had been fired from inside the vehicle, although she was not expressly told that.
The second clip ended as Barnette went to look for Noor.
The third clip was filmed two minutes and six seconds later, Sweasy said. It showed Barnette standing outside the front passenger side of a squad as Noor, whose face was obscured by the vehicle, lifted his left arm up toward the empty driver’s side and then lifted his right arm up, holding them next to each other and pointing toward the door. Noor’s hands were obscured by shadow.
Was Noor demonstrating how he shot Damond? Sweasy asked.
“Absolutely not,” Barnette said, “because we didn’t have any discussion about him firing his weapon.”
The clip had no audio, because Barnette never intended to log it. She activated the body camera — which constantly records without saving the data — after walking away from Noor; the exchange was captured because once the cameras are activated, they automatically save the previous 30 seconds without sound.
Barnette was shown turning on her camera and talking to Lt. Dan May.
“Did you find out the direction it’s been shot?” May asked.
“He was in the car,” Barnette answered on the video.
Sweasy pressed Barnette whether she learned that from Noor.
“It sounds like you were kind of surprised,” Sweasy said.
“No,” Barnette said. “I asked him nothing about the shooting. I don’t know why he lifted his arms.”
Barnette’s approximately 3½ hours on the witness stand was marked by strained exchanges with the prosecution and repeated revisits to a transcript of her grand jury testimony to reconcile contradictions.
She surprised the prosecution by telling them for the first time Tuesday that she had “numerous” “casual” conversations with Harrity after the shooting that she never documented and did not divulge at the 2018 grand jury proceeding, which legally compelled several Minneapolis officers to testify after they refused to voluntarily meet with the County Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutors accused Barnette of originating the idea that a slap or loud noise heard on Noor and Harrity’s squad preceded the shooting.
According to a transcript of her interview with the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) that was read aloud in court, Barnette recalled Harrity telling her that Damond had a “stunned look on her face and then he heard a noise and then Noor shot her.”
Under questioning by Sweasy, Barnette testified that Harrity did not say anything about a noise.
“I think that came from officers trying to figure out how they were … startled,” she said of how she came to share the information with the BCA.
The BCA included it in a probable cause statement supporting a search warrant for Damond’s home, and it has become integral to the defense’s argument that Noor and Harrity feared for their lives that night.
During the same BCA interview, Barnette also revealed that Noor “asked me several times, ‘Sarge, is [Damond] going to be OK?’ ”
According to the transcript, she responded: “I’m not really worried about that right now; I’m worried about you.”
Testimony resumes Wednesday.