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Prosecutors Rest Case, Former MPD Officer Mohamed Noor Takes Stand

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) -- Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor took to the witness stand Thursday after the prosecution rested its case.

Noor is charged in the 2017 shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.

On Thursday afternoon, the first thing Noor was asked was how uncomfortable testifying must be for him. He replied, "it is." They then went through his childhood, from when he came to the United States, to becoming a citizen in 1999 and then becoming a Minneapolis police officer.

On becoming a police officer, Noor said he "always wanted to serve Minneapolis," that he "wanted to make a difference" and "loved this city."

Soft-spoken throughout, Noor talked of his police training, having to know criminal codes, statutes, and shoot/don't shoot scenarios. He mentioned that most of his training focused on working with a partner, saying an officer must trust their partner and as long as they are safe, things are good.

When talking about his ambush training, Noor said "acting is better than reacting" and if you are reacting, it's too late to protect yourself.

Damond, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia, called 911 to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home minutes before she was shot.

Noor refused to talk to investigators after the shooting, and he was fired from the force soon after being charged. It has been unclear whether he would testify, but after prosecutors wrapped up their case Thursday, defense attorneys asked Judge Kathryn Quaintance whether their expert witnesses could sit in the courtroom during Noor's testimony.

The death of Damond, a 40-year-old life coach who was engaged to be married, sparked anger and disbelief in both the U.S. and Australia, cost the city's police chief her job and contributed to the then-mayor's electoral defeat a few months later.

Noor's attorneys have argued that he and his partner Matthew Harrity were spooked by a thump or noise on their squad car — possibly Damond hitting the squad as she walked up.

More from Noor's testimony:

During his testimony, Noor says he hit code 4 the night of the shooting, letting dispatch know they were safe and clearing the scene when he heard a loud bang on the driver's side of the car. He said someone appeared and he heard his partner yell "oh Jesus" and reach for his gun.

"My partner feared for his life. He turned with fear in his eyes, he looked toward me and his gun was caught in his holster," Noor said.

Prosecutors have questioned the supposed noise, noting investigators didn't find forensic evidence of Damond's fingerprints on the car.

"My intent was to stop the threat and save my partner's life," Noor added during his testimony.

They also questioned the timing of Harrity's first mention of the thump — not the night of the shooting, but a few days later, as he was being interviewed by state investigators.

Following the shooting, Noor says he felt his "whole world come tumbling down."

"I couldn't breathe. It's like paralysis," Noor said. "If I had known this was going to happen, I would never have been a cop."

Neither officer had their body cameras running when Damond was shot, something Harrity blamed on what he called a vague policy that didn't require it. The department toughened the policy after Damond's death to require that they be turned on when responding to a call.

More from Noor's testimony:

Damond was white. Noor, 33, is a Somali American whose hiring two years before the shooting was celebrated by Minneapolis leaders as a sign of a diversifying the police force in a city with a large population of Somali immigrants.

On Wednesday morning, the prosecution called the Crystal Police Department use of force expert, Lt. Derrick Hacker, to the stand.

Hacker testified that being spooked or startled is not the same as "fearing death or great bodily harm." He said he also believes that Noor's use of deadly force was "excessive and objectively unreasonable."

Hacker told the jury the shooting could have been avoided if Noor and Harrity had made contact with Damond after her second call to 911 when she requested an estimated time of arrival for officers. Hacker testified that Damond "did nothing wrong."

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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