Bicyclist who shot cellphone video and special investigator testify at Noor trial

April 17, 2019 10:31 PM

A key witness took the stand Wednesday morning in the Mohamed Noor murder trial.

Noor, a former Minneapolis police officer, shot and killed Justine Ruzszcyk Damond in July 2017 after she called 911 to report a possible crime happening outside her South Minneapolis home.

He is facing murder and manslaughter charges and has pleaded not guilty, claiming self-defense.

There are two people who directly witnessed the shooting - the other officer in the squad car with Noor and a teen on a bicycle. On Wednesday morning, the teen began his testimony.

DIGITAL EXTRA: Examining Wednesday's developments in Noor trial

The witness said he was 16 at the time and was riding his bike to a friend's house late that night when he noticed police parked near an alley. The teen testified he also saw a woman seven-to-10 feet away from the squad car with a cellphone to her ear.

The teen said he was trying to keep a low profile as he passed because he had been drinking alcohol and had marijuana with him, so he had headphones on and was trying to keep his face down.

As he rode by, he heard a gunshot and decided to stop and pull out his cellphone.

When asked why, he said, "Teenager with a phone, everything gets recorded these days. I thought, 'It's a cop shooting, record it.'"

He said that's when he noticed a woman on the ground, with one of the officers rushing toward her.

RELATED: Supervisor at OIS questioned about how investigation and evidence handled, special treatment discovered

The teen's cellphone video was shown in court Wednesday and Noor told him he could keep recording but had to step back.

Wednesday afternoon, a special investigator brought in by the Hennepin County Attorney's Office testified she was brought in to dig deeper into the case. 

Nancy Dunlap especially wanted to know where the source of the scream that led to Damond's 911 calls came from.

To get answers, she put together a chronology.

"A timeline is important because that is the context in which all events occur and shows what officers were doing and how heightened their state may have been when they arrived," former federal prosecutor Steve Schleicher said. 

Dunlap previously spent a good portion of her career as a detective with the Minneapolis Police Department. She stated her report focused on the day of the shooting, July 15, 2017. 

Dunlap checked records, footage, audio recordings and looked at the GPS on the squad car of Noor and partner Matthew Harrity. 

Dunlap said the partners responded to a dozen calls, two of those from Damond. During their shift, Dunlap noted that Noor activated his body worn camera five times, but Harrity didn't at all until after the shooting. 

Schleicher explained that strategy.

"Anything prosecutors do at this time is to portray law enforcement in a less favorable light, that is something they will rely on later when they ask jurors what a reasonable officer would do," he said.

Despite her exhaustive efforts, Dunlap testified she couldn't track down the noise source. 

Officer Richard Opitz took the stand after that. He was at the crime scene the next morning and testified that a supervisor, Sgt. Shannon Barnette, instructed him to take the squad car to the car wash, then put it back in service. 

Opitz said no one told him the gunshot came from the inside and that the car was evidence.

Meanwhile, the Minneapolis Police Department confirmed officers have been directed not to attend court unless under subpeona, a strategy defense attorneys alleged restricts their right to an open trial.

"On April 10, 2019 Chief Medaria Arradondo issued a directive to staff that unless they are under subpeona for that time, they should not be in the courtrooms," a statement from the department said. "This was out of concern that the attendance of officers observing in the courtroom might have an adverse impact on the trial and those in attendance."  

Full coverage of Noor trial

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Beth McDonough and Joe Mazan

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