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Cop shot woman who called 911 "without saying a word," prosecutor says

A Minneapolis police officer acted recklessly when he fatally shot a woman who had called 911 to report a possible rape near her home, a prosecutor told jurors in the former officer's trial. Opening statements began Tuesday in the trial of the ex-officer, Mohamed Noor, who fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond in July 2017 as she approached his SUV.

Noor, 33, who is Somali American, is charged with murder and manslaughter in the death of Damond, a 40-year-old dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia.

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Patrick Lofton told jurors that Noor fired across his partner, Matthew Harrity, through an open driver's side window "without saying a word."

In this Aug. 11, 2017, file photo, Johanna Morrow plays the didgeridoo during a memorial service for Justine Ruszczyk Damond in Minneapolis. Police officer Mohamed Noor is charged with murder in Diamond's July 2017 shooting death. Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune via AP

Damond had called 911 twice. She then called her fiancé but hung up when officers arrived to investigate, telling him, "OK, the police are here," Lofton said. Just 1 minute, 19 seconds passed from the time Damond hung up to the time she cradled a gunshot wound to her abdomen and said, "I'm dying," Lofton said.

Damond was barefoot and wearing her pajamas.

A defense attorney argued that Noor drew his gun to protect his partner and himself. During opening statements, Noor's attorney, Peter Wold, told jurors the fatal shooting was a "perfect storm with tragic consequences."

Wold said that as Noor and his partner were responding to Damond's report of a possible rape behind her home, they saw a bicyclist and heard a "bang." 

"It is the next split second that this case is all about," Wold said. 

When Noor heard the bump on the door, Wold said, he heard his partner say "Oh Jesus" and saw him look towards his gun, reports CBS affiliate WCCO. That's when Noor pulled his gun. Wold said Damond appeared out of the dark at the side of the squad car. Noor fired a single shot, killing Damond.

Lofton said investigators found no forensic evidence to show that Damond had touched the squad car before she was shot, an assertion that seemed aimed at the possibility that she had slapped or hit it upon approaching the officers. Lofton 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.

Wold said that in Noor's mind it was a classic setup for what could have been an ambush. The shooting came just two weeks after an officer in New York was ambushed and killed in a parked vehicle.
The defense said Noor had only been on the force for about a year and a half and had been trained in responding to ambush attacks, the station reports. Wold argued Noor only wanted to be the best police officer he could be, describing him as "calm and compassionate."

Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, center, arrives for the first day of jury selection with his attorneys in Minneapolis, Minn., on Monday, April 1, 2019. Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune via AP

Damond, who was white, was a life coach and was set to be married the month after her death. Her fiancé, Don Damond, gave emotional testimony Tuesday, saying that the phone call he placed to Justine's father in Australia to inform him of her death was "the worst phone call I've ever had to make in my life."

"I just broke down, I don't even recall what I said — I don't think I ever relayed that it had been a police shooting," he said on the stand, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "I just said Justine had been shot."  

Noor has refused to talk to investigators. The officers did not turn on their body cameras until after the shooting, and there was no squad car video.

Prosecutors charged Noor with second-degree intentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, saying there is no evidence he faced a threat that justified deadly force. They must prove he acted unreasonably when he shot Damond.

Minnesota law allows police officers to use deadly force to protect themselves or their partners from death or great bodily harm.

Noor's attorneys haven't said whether he will testify. If he does, prosecutors may be able to introduce some evidence that the defense wanted to keep out of the state's case, including that he has refused to talk to investigators. They also could bring up a 2015 psychological test that showed Noor disliked being around people and had difficulty confronting others. Despite that test, a psychiatrist found him fit to be a cadet officer.

The shooting, which got international attention, 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.

It took a week to select a jury. The jurors include a firefighter and paramedic, an obstetrician-gynecologist, a civil engineer, a grocery store manager, a restaurant host, a carpenter and a Homeland Security immigration officer.

Six jurors are people of color, including two Filipino men, an Ethiopian man and a Pakistani woman.

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