MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Jurors on Wednesday heard the 911 calls a woman made to report a possible sexual assault before she was shot by a Minneapolis officer now on trial for murder in her death.
The recordings of Justine Ruszczyk Damond’s voice drew an emotional response from her family members in the Hennepin County courtroom where Mohammed Noor is on trial.
Noor shot Damond in an alley behind her home in July 2017 when the unarmed woman, barefoot and wearing pajamas, approached the police SUV where he and his partner were seated. Noor’s attorneys say he was protecting his partner and himself from what he perceived to be a possible ambush.
Defense attorney Tom Plunkett said Noor and his partner, Matthew Harrity, would haven’t know they were responding to a possible sexual assault because they didn’t hear her 911 calls and were told by dispatchers only that there was a report of a woman screaming behind a building.
Noor, 33, is charged with murder and manslaughter. He fired a single shot at Damond, a dual citizen of both the U.S. and Australia whose death rocked both countries and led to changes in the Minneapolis Police Department.
Attorneys for Noor, who was fired after being charged in the case and has never talked to investigators about what happened, argued that he used reasonable force to defend himself and his partner from a perceived threat. But prosecutors say there is no evidence he faced a threat that justified deadly force.
Prosecutors plan to introduce body camera video showing the aftermath of the shooting were stalled when Plunkett moved to exclude the footage, arguing it would be prejudicial to his client. The footage doesn’t capture the shooting itself because officers turned them only afterward. It shows the officers’ attempts to save Damond.
Judge Kathryn Quaintance agreed to hold off on the footage until she has time to review case law.
In opening statements Tuesday, defense attorney Peter Wold said Noor was reacting to a loud noise and feared an ambush, calling the shooting “a perfect storm with tragic consequences.” The shooting came just two weeks after an officer in New York was ambushed and killed in a parked vehicle.
Noor and his partner were rolling down a dark alley in response to the 911 call from Damond when a bicyclist appeared in front of them and they heard “a bang,” Wold said.
“It is the next split second that this case is all about,” Wold said.
Prosecutor Patrick Lofton, in his opening remarks, questioned a statement from Harrity that he heard a thump right before the shooting. Lofton said Harrity never said anything at the scene about such a noise, instead mentioning it for the first time some days later in an interview with investigators.
Investigators found no forensic evidence to show that Damond had touched the squad car before she was shot, raising the possibility that she had not slapped or hit it upon approaching the officers, Lofton said.
Damond, 40, was a life coach who was engaged to be married in a month. Noor is a Somali American whose arrival on the force just a couple of years earlier had been trumpeted by city leaders working to diversify the police force.
Noor’s attorneys have not said whether he will testify. The shooting raised questions about Noor’s training. The police chief defended Noor’s training, but the chief was forced to resign days later. The shooting also led to changes in the department’s policy on use of body cameras.