Noor. Submitted image

Prosecutors find signs of trouble in Noor’s work records

Updated: September 12, 2018 - 3:50 pm

The ex-officer’s trial starts this month

This story has been updated with a response from Noor’s defense team since it was originally published online.

Mohamed Noor “was never a reasonable police officer” argue prosecutors in a recent Hennepin County District Court filing that draws on Minneapolis Police Department work and training records for the ex-officer charged in an on-duty shooting.

Included in the filing are notes from a pre-employment psychological evaluation of Noor, in which “he reported disliking other people and being around them.” It was so unusual for a police officer candidate that one of the department’s civilian human resources employees sought clarification from the psychiatrist who determined Noor was fit for duty.

The documents also draw on records from Noor’s training and his short time on the force, detailing a May 18, 2017 incident in the Whittier neighborhood during which Noor allegedly pointed his gun at a person’s head during a traffic stop. That incident took place less than two months before the July 15, 2017 shooting of 40-year-old Justine Damond that led to third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges against Noor.

Noor’s attorneys replied a week later, describing the narrative developed by prosecutors as “gravely flawed in both law and fact.” They said prosecutors left out key details of the May 2017 traffic stop, ignored racial bias in the psychological test and essentially cherry picked details from Noor’s training records to make their client look bad.

Noor intends to plead not guilty in his trial. An omnibus hearing is scheduled for Sept. 27.

The filings made by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office were a response to requests to drop all charges in the case from Noor’s defense team, who in August claimed lack of probable cause and prosecutorial misconduct on the part of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. Those requests were denied.

Judge Kathryn Quaintance also denied a request from Noor’s attorneys to suppress evidence drawn from Noor’s psychological evaluation. They argued it would violate physician-patient privilege to allow the documents, seized on search warrants, to enter the record.

Prior acts

Noor had been an officer for about 21 months when he and his former partner, Officer Matthew Harrity, responded to a 911 call placed by Damond, who reported hearing what could have been a sexual assault near her Fulton-neighborhood home.

Noor was the passenger in the police SUV piloted to the scene by Harrity. The two were parked in the darkened alley behind Damond’s home when she approached the vehicle, and Noor shot her through Harrity’s open driver’s side window. Harrity later told investigators they were “spooked.”

When the charges against him were announced in March, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Noor acted “recklessly” by reaching across his partner to fire his weapon. Freeman said there was no evidence that Damond posed a threat requiring the officer to respond with deadly force.

In their recent court filings, prosecutors argue Noor’s employment records show “prior acts of recklessness and indifference,” including that May 2017 stop that took place during the daytime on 24th Street between Blaisdell and Nicollet avenues. Noor was behind the wheel when he and another officer pulled over a driver who allegedly gave a bicyclist the middle finger before passing another vehicle on the right without signaling.

According to prosecutors, the squad car video shows Noor exiting the vehicle “with his gun pulled out and pointed downward.” He approached the stopped vehicle’s driver’s side door, and “the first thing he did was point his gun at the driver’s head.”

The driver was issued a ticket for failing to signal, a petty misdemeanor, and prosecutors say neither officer ever wrote a report to explain the display of force. The driver’s ticket was dismissed after Noor failed to appear in court.

In their response, Noor’s defense team said the incident video also showed the driver traveling nearly two blocks before stopping and that, once stopped, he “made an exaggerated furtive movement by leaning abruptly to the right.” Noor and his partner that day suspected the driver was hiding contraband, which explains their actions, they continued.

They said Noor was not informed of the hearing date for the driver, adding that officers are not required to file a report for “minor traffic citations.”

Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor leaving the courthouse after entering a not-guilty plea in May. Noor was escorted by defense attorneys Peter Wold, left, and Tom Plunkett, right. Photo by Dylan Thomas
Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor leaving the courthouse after entering a not-guilty plea in May. Noor was escorted by defense attorneys Peter Wold, left, and Tom Plunkett, right. Photo by Dylan Thomas

‘Tunnel vision’

Prosecutors included in their filing notes from the field training officer who worked with Noor as a recruit. In one case, a training officer stated Noor was at times unwilling to take calls. Another described Noor’s “tunnel vision” while driving with the squad car’s lights and siren on and having to yell at the recruit to make him aware of his surroundings.

A training officer noted that Noor tended to focus so intently under stress that he sometimes missed radio communications from dispatch.

“The defendant’s work history proves that he overreacts, escalates benign citizen contacts, does not safely take control of situations, and, in the most egregious situations, uses his firearm took quickly, too recklessly, and in a manner grossly disproportional to the circumstances,” prosecutors wrote in the filing.

But Noor’s attorneys said prosecutors failed to give the entire story, noting that the department’s field training program is “designed to give both positive and negative feedback regarding each training day,” adding that “at no time was Officer Noor ever found to be not acceptable on any task.”

Prosecutors implied Noor was at times driving in circles to avoid responding to calls, but his defense attorneys said that claim lacked context. On the day in question, Noor was working without a partner and was not positioned to respond to all calls. Defense attorneys claim prosecutors twisted the field training officer’s “observation” into a “concern.”

Breach of duty

In their filing, Noor’s attorneys said prosecutors demonstrated “a breathtaking breach of their duty to exercise candor” with the court by submitting details of a pre-employment personality test without context.

They argued that prosecutors ignored a known bias against minority test takers, whose results are compared against a sample group of other officers who are primarily white. They said a “blind reading” of the test results without the context of Noor’s full psychological evaluation was misleading.

Noor, who was fired from the department after charges were announced, is also named in a civil lawsuit filed by Damond’s father on behalf of her family. They are seeking $50 million in damages.

Friends and neighbors of Justine Damond (Ruszczyk) organized a memorial at the Lake Harriet Bandshell in August 2017. File photo
Friends and neighbors of Justine Damond (Ruszczyk) organized a memorial at the Lake Harriet Bandshell in August 2017. File photo