The former officer goes on trial next month in the death of Justine Damond
Attorneys representing the former Minneapolis police officer facing murder charges for a July 2017 on-duty shooting filed motions Aug. 15 to dismiss the case on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct and a failure to demonstrate probable cause.
They allege public comments made by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman have undermined Mohamed Noor’s right to a fair trial. In a separate motion, Noor’s attorneys argued there wasn’t evidence to support the third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges the county attorney filed in March, after which Noor’s police job was terminated.
Chuck Laszewski, a spokesperson for Freeman’s office, said they would not comment on a pending case but planned to file a response to the motions “in the coming weeks.”
Last summer, Noor shot and killed 40-year-old Justine Damond, also known as Justine Ruszczyk, from the passenger seat of a police SUV driven by his partner, Officer Matthew Harrity. Harrity told investigators they were “spooked” by a loud noise while driving through a dark alley behind Damond’s 51st & Washburn home in the Fulton neighborhood.
“Knowing that the night of July 15th ended in tragedy, it is easy to second-guess the split second decision of Officer Noor to draw his firearm and shoot,” write Noor’s attorneys, Tom Plunkett and Peter Wold, in a Hennepin County District Court filing. But the attorneys contend Noor was attempting to defend himself and his partner when he shot.
In state statute, third-degree murder is defined, in part, as “an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life” — language Noor’s attorneys zero-in on as they argue that Noor’s attempts to provide life-saving aid to Damond with CPR show “an officer distraught by his actions” and not a depraved mind.
Plunkett and Wold also argue Noor’s actions don’t rise to the standard of “culpable negligence” for second-degree manslaughter. While Noor declined to speak with investigators, the attorneys cite Harrity’s statements to claim the officers were frightened and note Noor fired his weapon only once in “an attempt to minimize the danger he and Officer Harrity believed was real at that moment.”
“And after the fact, his shock and actions reveal a man with a heavy (conscience), not a man acting in a conscious disregard for the risk he was creating,” they add.
In a separate filing, Plunkett and Wold strongly criticized Freeman’s public comments on the case, including statements the county attorney made during a September 2017 community meeting hosted by Ward 13 City Council Member Linea Palmisano, when he reportedly told a group of Damond’s neighbors he was “saddened” by her death. At that same meeting, Plunkett and Wold point out, Freeman reportedly said a Ramsey County jury was wrong to clear Jeronimo Yanez, a St. Anthony police officer, of charges stemming from the shooting death of Philando Castile in a 2016 traffic stop.
The court filing also raises Freeman’s comments at a December 2017 labor union holiday party when the county attorney, who claimed to be unaware he was being recorded, expressed frustration with Minneapolis police for not cooperating with the investigation. Freeman later described the comments as “ill advised” and apologized, but the next month he convened a grand jury to compel testimony from officers.
Noor’s trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 27.
He is also named in a civil suit filed U.S. District Court in Minneapolis this summer by Damond’s family. They seek $50 million in damages. The attorneys representing Noor filed a motion Aug. 16 to stay the civil trial until after the completion of the criminal trial.