We had an important day in the trial of the murder/manslaughter trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor for the killing of Justine Ruszcyk. The prosecution called MPD fifth precinct sergeant Shannon Barnette to the stand, but was allowed to cross-examine her under Rule 611 of the Rules of Evidence. She was essentially treated by the County Attorney as an adverse witness.
The prosecution bears the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but Noor’s defense of the use of deadly force in this case rests on two prongs: (1) Justine slapped the Harrity/Noor squad car as it stopped at the end of the alley behind her house in southwest Minneapolis (in the safest neighborhood in Minneapolis’s five precincts) and (2) Harrity and Noor feared a police ambush in connection with Justine’s 911 call as they were about to leave the scene. Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Amy Sweasy’s examination of Barnette did substantial damage to the first prong of the defense.
Sweasy is an excellent cross-examiner. I am impressed by her. Her examination of Barnette was devastating. As I read the proceedings, she left Barnette flustered and humiliated because Barnette was making it up as she went along.
The Star Tribune summarizes yesterday’s testimony here, MPR here. My emphasis differs from theirs. The background of their narrative accounts affords me the freedom to bottom-line it, as they say in the business world.
• Barnette was riding alone on the middle shift watch when she heard the shots-fired call on her radio. She activated her bodycam and took off for the scene. She took over the scene as the critical incident commander under the protocol for officer-involved shootings.
• Before I get to the heart of her testimony I should note that Barnette was one of the police non-cooperators with the County Attorney’s investigation of the killing. The County Attorney’s undertook the investigation after he found the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s investigation to be inadequate. Barnette refused to talk voluntarily to the County Attorney. Her testimony was compelled before the grand jury that the County Attorney empaneled specifically to obtain the testimony of the police non-cooperators.
• Barnette recorded three bodycam clips at the scene on the evening of July 15-16. She turned off her bodycam when she talked to Noor as he sat in the squad car before he left for City Hall per police protocol in officer-involved shootings. She had a hard time explaining why she turned the bodycam on and off at the scene.
• The second bodycam clip is nevertheless crucial. She talked to Harrity upon arrival. The second clip captures Harrity’s explanation of the shooting to Barnette: “She just came out of nowhere on the side of the thing [squad car] and we both got spooked. I had my gun out. I didn’t fire. And then Noor pulled out and fired.”
• Key words: “We both got spooked.”
• After the initial playing of the three video clips we broke for lunch. Barnette’s testimony consumed most of the afternoon. Barnette couldn’t explain why she turned her bodycam on and off.
• Sweasy’s cross-examination of Barnette persuaded me that Barnette invented Justine’s slap on the car to explain why Harrity said Justine “spooked” them.
• Peter Wold made the slap an important part of his opening statement. He dramatically slapped the counsel table during his statement to illustrate it.
• Assistant County Attorney Patrick Lofton suggested during his opening statement that the slap didn’t occur, but rather that Barnette invented it during the investigation of the shooting by the BCA.
• On this point I take it that the prosecution delivered on the promise of delivering on what it promised the evidence would show in its opening statement; the defense came up short (so far). Harrity’s testimony may yet shore up the defense.
• Both the Star Tribune and MPR note that the transcript of Barnette’s interview with the BCA reflects Barnette recalling Harrity telling her that Justine had a “stunned look on her face and then he heard a noise and then Noor shot her.” This didn’t make much of an impression on me compared to what went before.
• Peter Wold briefly cross-examined Barnette. He tried to build her back up a little, invoking her long day at the scene (more than 20 hours) to explain the deficiencies in her report. He went over provisions of the bodycam policy in effect at the time of the incident to explain the decisions she made turning her bodycam on and off. He elicited her observation that Noor had a “thousand-yard stare” when she tracked him down in Ringgenberg’s squad car before he departed for City Hall. He had her explain that she had all the evidence she needed for public safety purposes without going into further details with Harrity and without interviewing Noor at all.
• My impression, perhaps mistaken, was that Peter perceived Barnette’s ship to have sunk. His cross-examination of Barnette was relatively brief, as most of the defense cross-examinations so far have been. My guess is that he didn’t want to tie Noor too tightly to Barnette after Sweasy was done with her.
• Barnette was not a credible witness. She was a defeated person when she got off the stand. I almost felt sorry for her.
The prosecution asked the court to adjourn a few minutes early in light of a witness whom it will examine at length today. Could it be Harrity?