Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman held a press conference this afternoon to explain the charges brought against Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor in the shooting death of Justine Damond. He said that they have now been able to reconstruct the events in the minutes around the shooting virtually down to the second. He reviewed the facts in some detail and answered pointed questions from the press reflecting the intense local interest in the case. For reasons that remain unexplained, police officers declined to cooperate voluntarily with the investigation.
Early in his prepared statement Freeman reviewed the testimony of Noor’s partner Matthew Harrity. He quoted Harrity saying that they were “spooked” when Justine approached the driver’s (Harrity’s) side of the car, but that they were unable to make her out. They couldn’t tell her age or sex. They couldn’t see her hands. Noor himself has so far refused to speak to investigators or to testify to the grand jury.
Freeman rightly made the point that Noor’s right to use deadly force depends on a standard of objective reasonableness. The defense will certainly draw on Harrity’s testimony, but I would be surprised if Noor himself doesn’t have second thoughts about standing on his Fifth Amendment right at trial.
The Star Tribune story quotes Harrity as forth in the criminal complaint: “Officer Harrity said he was startled and said ‘Oh sh*t or Oh Jesus.’ He said he perceived that his life was in danger, reached for his gun, unholstered it, and held it to his rib cage while pointing it downward. He said from the driver’s seat he had a better vantage point to determine a threat than Officer Noor would have had from the passenger seat.”
The criminal complaint alleges: “There is no evidence that … Officer Noor encountered, appreciated, investigated or confirmed a threat that justified the decision to use deadly force. Instead, Officer Noor recklessly and intentionally fired his handgun from the passenger seat, a location at which he would have been less able than Officer Harrity to see and hear events on the other side of the squad car.”
Freeman emphasized and explained that, despite his use of the grand jury to gather evidence, he is responsible for the charging decision. Toward the end of the press conference Freeman identified Assistant County Attorney Amy Sweasy as the lead prosecutor in the case. He said she would be assisted by Deputy County Attorney David Brown. His office is clearly all in on the case.
The video below was posted here by the County Attorney’s office. I thought that readers who have closely followed the case might be interested in taking a look.
Freeman’s father was former Minnesota Governor and Kennedy administration Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman. From 1946-1948, back from his service in World War II, Orville Freeman rendered indispensable assistance to then Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey taking back control of the DFL from the Communists and throwing them out of the party. By my lights Freeman’s father holds an honored place in Minnesota political history. John Haynes tells the story in his valuable book Dubious Alliance: The Making of Minnesota’s DFL Party.
UPDATE: I have embedded the criminal complaint against Noor via Scribd below. It is accessible online here via the Office of the Hennepin County Attorney. The text of Freeman’s opening remarks is also accessible online here.