Judge Quaintance announced at the outset of proceedings that she would not hold court on April 19. As promised, we had Friday off. Trial resumed on Monday with the testimony of two Minneapolis Police Department officers and five Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents. The BCA took over the investigation of the killing of Justine Damond in the early morning hours of July 16, 2017 as a matter of routine in an officer-involved shooting.
By the count of my colleagues reporting on the case, these were the forty-second through forty-eighth witnesses called by Assistant Hennepin County Attorneys Amy Sweasy and Patrick Lofton. Their approach has been methodical from day one. Their thinking appears to me to be that they have the burden of proof and they are going to put the evidence they have before the jury.
Yesterday, I am afraid, the approach went from methodical to boring and perhaps mystifying, as they called two forensic scientists from the BCA to testify regarding blood evidence. The relevance of this evidence to the issues in the case escaped me. Indeed, it seemed to me something of a diversion as we approach the end of the state’s case. As always, however, I may be missing something.
Some of the testimony and evidence supported important elements of the prosecution’s case. The Star Tribune and MPR are in the courtroom with me. They are themselves following the case in detailed fashion. The Star Tribune’s summary of yesterday’s testimony is here, MPR’s here. With their work as background, these are the points I would highlight from yesterday’s testimony.
• The headline is that the Noor/Harrity squad car was dusted for fingerprints. Justine’s fingerprints were not found on the car. The failure to detect her fingerprints is not definitive, but it belies the defense assertion that Justine “slapped” or thumped the car in some fashion that might have scared Harrity.
• The BCA released the Noor/Harrity squad car back to the Minneapolis police on July 16 (I think) and subsequently took it back for additional testing. I had a hard time following this testimony and can’t make sense of my notes on it. I take it the car was not treated like the key piece of evidence that it is. Did this undermine the fingerprint evidence? I did not hear that point made.
• Harrity provided testimony crucial to the defense last week regarding the fear he felt just before Noor shot Justine. Justine “startled” him when she “slapped” or thumped the car and he vaguely saw a silhouette coming up from behind him on the driver’s side of the squad. That’s it? That’s it.
• BCA Special Agent Doug Henning was one of the BCA officers testifying yesterday. He interviewed Harrity on the third day after the shooting at the home of Harrity’s attorney Fred Bruno. Defense counsel Tom Plunkett revisited the issue of Harrity’s fear with Henning.
• Plunkett elicited from Henning the statement made by Harrity in the interview that the noise “made him jump out of his seat.” Indeed, he had never felt so scared in the line of duty before. I’m not sure Sweasy did enough to break the thin basis of Harrity’s extreme fear down in her examination of Harrity last week even if one takes it at face value. How would he have answered if asked whether he would have pulled the trigger? I don’t think he would have said yes, but I don’t know.
• BCA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Chris Olson was on the stand as court adjourned yesterday. He was the first BCA agent on the scene in the early morning hours of July 16 as the BCA took over investigation of the shooting.
• Olson was responsible for the insertion of reference to a “slap” on the Noor/Harrity squad car in the two search warrants obtained by the BCA on the morning of July 16. Where did the “slap” business come from? Long story short: it came from MPD Sergeant Shannon Barnette, the critical incident officer in charge of the scene for the Minneapolis police.
• Barnette had nevertheless vehemently denied discussing the shooting with Harrity that evening or after.
• Olson testified to the “conspicuous absence of information” made available to him by the MPD about the shooting as he took over the investigation in the early morning hours.
• Sweasy asked Olson about the lighting at the scene at 2:00 a.m. He said he could have read a book under the street light where Justine was shot at the end of the alley at 51st and Washburn.
Olson’s direct examination continues this morning.