Defense attorneys for the former Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed Justine Ruszczyk Damond last year filed motions asking for dismissal of the murder and manslaughter charges against him, arguing that his attempts to revive her with CPR prove that he wasn’t “depraved” when he pulled the trigger.
Mohamed Noor’s attorneys also questioned whether he could receive a fair trial because of massive publicity surrounding the case, singling out Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman’s comments to a group of activists last December lamenting the lack of evidence in the case. A recording of the exchange later surfaced online.
The motions filed in Hennepin County District Court on Wednesday come in response to Freeman’s decision to charge Noor with third-degree murder in the shooting death last summer of Damond. Noor, 32, became the first officer statewide in recent history to be charged with murder in connection with an on-duty killing. He was fired from the department the same day that Freeman announced his decision.
On Wednesday, Freeman’s spokesman, Chuck Laszewski, said that as a matter of policy, his office doesn’t comment on pending cases. Prosecutors have several weeks to file formal responses to the motions, which will be considered at a hearing next month before Judge Kathryn Quaintance. No trial date has been set.
Noor’s partner that night, Matthew Harrity, has since returned to duty, but a police spokesman confirmed Wednesday that he is still under investigation by Internal Affairs in connection with the shooting. The department declined further comment.
Noor is charged with shooting Damond, 40, after responding to her 911 call about a possible rape near her south Minneapolis home in July 2017. The shooting showed evidence of “a depraved mind,” as the charges are defined, and “culpable negligence,” prosecutors said, when he fired the fatal shot from inside his police SUV.
Neither officer had their body cameras turned on at the time of the incident, complicating the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s investigation and raising questions about how much prosecutors will rely on physical evidence and the testimony of Harrity, the only witness to the shooting. Noor hasn’t talked with state investigators, and he declined to answer questions earlier this year when called before a grand jury convened by Freeman.
Harrity, who appeared at least twice before the panel, described the incident as the most fearful event of his career, according to court filings.
Noor’s defense team — attorneys Thomas Plunkett and Peter Wold — has previously said Noor would plead not guilty to both charges, arguing that he was acting in self-defense and used “reasonable force” when he shot Damond.
In their latest filings, they argued that once the initial shock wore off and at Harrity’s insistence, Noor started performing CPR on Damond as his partner tended to her wound.
“He repeatedly asked Officer Harrity where EMS was and he begged (Damond) to stay with him,” the filings said. “His actions after the shooting evince a man not with a depraved mind, but of a man recognizing a tragedy and wanting to do anything he can to change the outcome.”
The case drew worldwide interest, from the Twin Cities to Damond’s native Australia, whose prime minister called her death “shocking” and “inexplicable.” It also led to the ouster of the city’s former police chief and a range of reforms for the department, including the overhaul of its body camera policy.
Questions about racial bias against Noor, who is Somali, have followed the case since the beginning, and were again raised by Plunkett and Wold in their motions.
They argued that Freeman’s comments last December — he was recorded saying that coming to a decision in the Noor case was “the big present I’d like to see under the Christmas tree” — rise to the level of prosecutorial misconduct and could taint prospective jurors in a criminal trial.
“His comments are not merely racially and culturally insensitive — they are full of animosity. They mock due process. They deny due process,” the motion said.
Noor’s legal troubles don’t end with this case. Damond’s relatives last month filed a civil lawsuit in federal court claiming Noor and Harrity conspired to cover up evidence of the shooting by failing to turn on their body cameras. The suit alleges that the officers later hid behind a “blue wall of silence,” citing news reports that dozens of their colleagues, acting on the advice of union attorneys, refused to cooperate with state and local investigators.
The family’s attorney, Bob Bennett, has reportedly said he intends to depose Noor before the end of his criminal trial. A federal judge will consider a request by the city’s attorneys to delay the trial pending Noor’s criminal case.