Testimony about body camera policies should be prohibited or severely limited, and other police officers’ experiences with civilians slapping their squad cars should not be allowed at the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, his attorneys argued in motions filed Friday.
The two are contentious issues in the July 15, 2017, fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, which occurred shortly after Noor and his partner, Matthew Harrity, heard a slap on their squad vehicle. Neither officer had their body cameras on at the time, although they both activated them immediately afterward.
Noor, 33, pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder with intent, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He is scheduled to stand trial April 1 in Hennepin County District Court.
Defense attorneys Thomas Plunkett and Peter Wold wrote that prosecutors are expected to raise questions about Minneapolis’ body camera policy and the officers’ compliance.
“It creates an irrelevant sideshow about police policies and interpretations,” they argued.
At minimum, they wrote, testimony should only include a statement about Minneapolis’ body camera policy at the time “without argument or inferences that the policy was or was not followed.”
Damond was shot several months into the department’s use of the technology, during which officers were given leeway on camera activation.
Noor and Harrity were responding to a 911 call Damond made regarding a possible sexual assault behind her south Minneapolis home. The officers’ squad camera was not running either. In the wake of Damond’s death, the city adopted a stricter policy requiring body cameras to be activated in nearly every encounter with the public.
The defense didn’t elaborate on its motion to exclude testimony from other officers about their experience with people hitting or approaching their squads.
While jurors will be asked to determine whether Noor’s actions were reasonable based on the circumstances and his state of mind at the time, it is not uncommon for prosecutors to question the reasonableness of an officer’s actions in comparison to other officers’ training and behavior.
Prosecutors in the 2017 trial of then-officer Jeronimo Yanez in the fatal shooting of motorist Philando Castile attempted to leverage other officers against Yanez.
Yanez’s defense said he feared for his life and fired his gun when Castile said he had a firearm and permit to carry, then reached toward a pocket when asked for his license.
Prosecutors in that case brought in a Roseville officer who testified that he had stopped about six armed drivers, followed a protocol that was starkly different from Yanez’s panicked approach and never used force on them.
Noor’s attorneys also filed several other motions Friday:
• Prohibit prosecutors from introducing testimony about “a blue line of silence” regarding officers’ interaction with their union, the Minneapolis Police Federation, leading up to a meeting with the county attorney’s office, or officers’ refusal to meet with the office.
• Prohibit testimony about related pending administrative or employment matters.
• Instruct the jury to accept as fact that Damond’s fingerprints were found on the squad car.
Assistant Hennepin County Attorneys Amy Sweasy and Patrick Lofton produced their own filings:
• A motion to introduce Noor’s body camera footage through another witness other than Noor, or “as a self-authenticating item of evidence.”
• An amended motion reiterating their request to exclude or limit testimony from the defense’s use-of-force expert, Emanuel Kapelsohn, arguing that he is “insufficiently qualified” to testify about “force science” or Harrity’s and Noor’s psychological response to stress.
• An “offer of proof” explaining the merits of two 3-D reconstruction and “flythrough” videos of the crime scene produced by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension that were opposed by the defense. The videos show the location of the squad car in relation to Damond’s body and potential bullet trajectories, among other information.