The Minneapolis follies

We have closely followed the killing of Justine Damond by Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor on July 15 last year. The case has received international attention and justly so. Noor has now been charged homicide and manslaughter charges here in state court. Noor is also the defendant in a civil lawsuit brought by Justine’s family here in federal court. I wrote recently about the federal lawsuit in “Notes on the Damond complaint.” When I spoke to the family’s attorney in the case about the federal lawsuit, Bob Bennett told me that the use of deadly force in the case was “the worst [he’s] seen” since he took his first such a case in 1980. He paused to do the arithmetic for me: “That’s 38 years.”

Noor has moved to dismiss the criminal charges against him with the result that the prosecutors have responded with evidence of Noor’s unfitness to serve as a police officer. The Star Tribune story covering the evidence comes under the understated headline “Filing: Mohamed Noor raised red flags among psychiatrists, training officers.” Libor Jany reports:

According to prosecutors, Noor was flagged by two psychiatrists during the pre-hiring evaluation in early 2015 after he exhibited an inability to handle the stress of regular police work and unwillingness to deal with people, according to the records.

The report went on to say that Noor was more likely than other police candidates to become impatient with others over minor infractions, have trouble getting along with others, to be more demanding and have a limited social support network. They showed he “reported disliking people and being around them.” And yet, since Noor exhibited no signs of a major mental illness, chemical dependence or personality disorder, he was deemed “psychiatrically fit to work as a cadet police officer for the Minneapolis Police Department,” the filing said. Given the inconsistencies in the report, a civilian human resources employee followed up with the psychiatrist two weeks later, seeking clarification. The psychiatrist, Dr. Thomas Gratzer, stood by his recommendation.

And that’s not all, of course:

Elsewhere in the filings, one training officer noted in a report that on Noor’s third to last training shift in the spring of 2016, he at times didn’t want to take calls, instead driving in circles when he could have assigned himself to them. The calls were for simple matters, such as a road hazard or a suspicious vehicle where the caller was unsure of whether the car was occupied.

In another instance, an officer noted that Noor told a 911 caller that he would follow up on a report of a possible burglar, but never did. The field training officer later said that it bothered her that Noor never bothered to check the area, because police are bound to “do our due diligence on this job.”

Here we come to the evening of July 15, 2017:

The documents also outlined the events leading up to the shooting, saying that Noor had gone from his off-duty job of working seven hours of security at a Wells Fargo branch to his shift, which went from 4:15 p.m. to 2:15 a.m. the following morning.

Prosecutors said the shift included a report of a woman with dementia wandering at the area of 50th and Xerxes. An hour and a half later Damond would call 911 from the same location to report a woman in distress. In both cases, multiple 911 calls were made in an effort to have police arrive more quickly, and in both, the officers cleared the call in minutes without investigating further.

After responding to Damond’s call, Noor and his partner, Matthew Harrity, rolled down the alley with their guns drawn. They stopped at the end of the alley, when Damond apparently approached the vehicle and Noor fired his weapon.

Prosecutors said “there is no evidence” that Noor saw Damond or tried to warn his partner that he’d drawn his gun and was preparing to fire. Nor, they continued, did he attempt to tell “anyone to stand back, show their hands, or identify themselves.”

“He made no attempt to identify a threatening situation, let alone de-escalate one,” the motion said. If the defendant had made an inquiry into the circumstances, he would have realized Ms. Ruszczyk was an unarmed woman who had called 911 twice to report a possible crime, and who wanted to speak to him and Officer Harrity before they drove away, having conducted only the most cursory, less-than-two-minute investigation into her calls.”

The thread hanging from today’s story bears on the obstacles in the path to Noor’s hiring that must have been removed to get a Somali officer on the force. Jany’s story doesn’t touch on this point or allude to any such issue.

I have used the word “kakistocracy” to describe what this case reveals about governance in the city of Minneapolis. Today’s Star Tribune story puts an exclamation point on this aspect of the case. It will cost the city dearly in the family’s case. In another understated aspect of his story Jany concludes: “Legal experts have said the Damond suit could produce a record payout.”

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