MINNEAPOLIS — Prosecutors in the case of a former Minneapolis police officer who is charged in the 2017 shooting death of an unarmed Australian woman say they want to use his refusal to speak to investigators as evidence in his trial.
Mohamed Noor, 33, is scheduled to appear in court Friday as attorneys for both sides argue several issues in his case. Noor is charged with second-degree intentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the July 15, 2017, shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a 40-year-old life coach who had called 911 to report a possible sexual assault behind her home.
Court documents filed in advance of Friday’s hearing provide a roadmap for issues that are expected to come up. Among them, prosecutors want to use Noor’s pretrial silence against him, and they want to submit evidence from a pre-employment psychological evaluation conducted in 2015. The defence wants to keep such evidence out, and wants to sever the most serious murder charge from the other two counts.
It’s not clear when Judge Kathryn Quaintance will rule.
Noor’s trial begins April 1. He has not entered a formal plea, but court documents indicate he’ll plead not guilty and will claim he was defending himself and others on the night of the shooting.
Noor has not spoken with investigators. His partner that night, Matthew Harrity, told investigators he was startled by a loud noise right before Damond approached the driver’s-side window of their police SUV.
According to the criminal complaint, Harrity, who was driving, heard a voice and a thump and caught a glimpse of a person’s head and shoulders outside his window. He then heard a sound like a lightbulb breaking, saw a flash and looked to his right to see Noor in the passenger seat with his arm extended. He looked out his window and saw Damond with a gunshot wound.
Prosecutors say investigators asked to arrange for a voluntary interview with Noor and that he declined through his attorney.
Defence attorneys say prosecutors aren’t allowed to use that against Noor in court because he has a constitutional right not to make any self-incriminating statements.
But prosecutors argue that they can use a defendant’s pre-arrest silence if the defendant was under no government-imposed compulsion to speak.
“In sum, the defendant had a choice on whether to tell his side of the story during a voluntary interview in a non-coercive setting,” prosecutor Amy Sweasy wrote. “His decision not to do so is relevant.”
Prosecutors also want to submit evidence from a pre-employment psychological evaluation, including a standardized psychological test that assesses personality traits and psychopathology. The test found that Noor was disinterested in interacting with others and, when compared with other officers, was more likely to be impatient or have difficulty confronting people. A psychiatrist concluded that overall, Noor was fit to be a police officer, saying the test results don’t carry much weight.
Prosecutors say the test results are admissible as character evidence, and they matter because the jury has to decide whether Noor acted as a reasonable police officer would act.
The defence says prosecutors don’t want to admit the overall psychological evaluation, which found Noor fit for duty, but instead are pointing to a test that is “unsupported speculation.”
Prosecutors also want to allow jurors to hear about some prior acts by Noor while he was a police officer, including an incident in which he unholstered his gun during a traffic stop just two months before Damond was shot. Defence attorneys oppose this.
It’s unknown whether Noor, who is Somali-American, will testify at his trial.
In one of the pretrial filings, prosecutors say they want statements that Noor made to defence investigators and experts to be kept out of the trial — unless Noor testifies first. Prosecutors say they otherwise would have no way to challenge what they say are “textbook self-serving statements.”
Defence attorneys are also seeking to omit other evidence. And they are asking that, prior to jury selection, potential jurors be shown a video about unconscious bias, with the goal of helping jurors recognize potential biases. The state opposes this request.
Follow Amy Forliti on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/amyforliti