Noor trial highlights rift between police and prosecutors

May 01, 2019 07:09 PM

During the prosecution of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, the performance of both Minneapolis police and state investigators also seemed to be on trial.

The Hennepin County Attorney's Office repeatedly called out law enforcement for its handling of the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond on July 15, 2017.


RELATED: Minneapolis mayor addresses verdict in Noor case

Now Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz says he's asking for all "evidence and background" on the case from state investigators.

Although several Minneapolis police officers testified at Noor's trial, prosecutors said 20 of them refused to talk until subpoenas forced them to.

That apparent lack of cooperation prompted strong words from Damond's father, John Ruszczyk, minutes after a jury found Noor guilty of murder in the third degree and manslaughter in the second degree Tuesday.

RELATED: Justine Ruszczyk Damond's father praises verdict, has harsh words for police, BCA

"We believe that this conviction was reached despite the active resistance of a number of Minneapolis officers, including the head of the union," Ruszczyk said.

In an email to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, Minneapolis Police Officers Federation president Lt. Bob Kroll denied the allegation.

"There was no resistance whatsoever," Kroll wrote. "I NEVER gave any officers advice not to cooperate. I had no involvement in the case."

RELATED: Jury finds Mohamed Noor guilty on two counts

The Minneapolis Police Department declined a request for an on-camera interview, but a spokesperson told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS:  "Every MPD Officer/Staff Member complied with every directive they were given."

Longtime prosecutor Steve Schleicher said disagreements between the county attorney's office and police during a case are common, but those disputes are often kept private. He said the apparent lack of cooperation from officers with prosecutors in this case is unusual.

"I've never seen that happen before," Schleicher said. "I've never had a situation where a police officer wasn't willing to come in and discuss the case."

DIGITAL EXTRA: Examining the Noor verdict

During the trial, prosecutors also criticized the work of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension - the state agency often tasked with investigating police shootings.

Prosecutors questioned why the BCA waited three days to interview Noor's partner, Matthew Harrity, and why investigators later inserted a theory that Damond slapped Noor and Harrity's squad car, even though officers testified there was no mention of a slap in the minutes and hours immediately after the shooting.

The BCA also faced criticism for quickly releasing the squad car back to Minneapolis police, who then washed the vehicle and put it back into service.

"That's why you have a strict policy as to what to do with this. It's much better to hold the evidence than to let it go - ever," said Mylan Masson, a retired police training expert.

A BCA spokesperson declined an interview request, citing a potential appeal, but emailed a statement from BCA Superintendent Drew Evans:

"Officer involved shooting investigations are among the most challenging conducted by the BCA," it read. "Our agents conduct thorough, comprehensive and independent investigations in order to present all the facts to a county attorney for review. In this case, BCA agents did just that, working 2,037 hours  and writing over 260 reports while working closely with the Hennepin County Attorney's office from the beginning."

Prosecutors also grilled Minneapolis Police Sgt. Shannon Barnette about conflicting statements when it came to what happened immediately after the shooting. Barnette came under fire for turning off her body camera right before speaking to Noor at the scene.

Masson points out the police department's body camera policy changed after the shooting of Damond, and that there was widespread confusion about the policy among officers prior to the incident.

"I think what they were probably thinking (was) 'Should this be on tape? What should be on tape? We don't know what should be on tape,'" Masson said.


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Eric Rasmussen

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