Since Justine Ruszczyk (Damond) was killed by Mohamed Noor on July 15, 2017, the Minneapolis mayor and chief of police have been sacked, the chief by the mayor and the mayor by the voters. Justine’s killing opened a window onto Minneapolis’s kakistocracy. The case hasn’t drawn much national attention, apparently because the victim was a white woman and the shooter is a black Somali immigrant. The usual polarities are reversed, but it is a big case. As one of the reporters working on the case put it to me, this is the biggest trial we will ever cover.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension took over the investigation of Justine’s killing in the early morning hours of July 16. It did a poor job of it until BCA Special Agent Brent Peterson took over as the lead agent on the case and Office of Hennepin County Attorney got seriously involved.
Mike Freeman is the Hennepin County Attorney. He put Assistant County Attorney Amy Sweasy in charge. I take it from yesterday’s testimony that she retained an outside expert to review the evidence and help guide the investigation.
Sweasy usually works hand in hand with the Minneapolis Police Department, but not in this case. The Minneapolis Police Department proved mostly uncooperative in the investigation. The Star Tribune explored this aspect of the case in a good article by Chao Xiong and Libor Jany this past weekend.
Sweasy convened a grand jury to take compelled testimony from the officers who wouldn’t talk to the BCA or to her. She took the testimony of 40 witnesses before the grand jury. Peterson signed the criminal complaint against Noor following the grand jury proceedings.
Yesterday the the prosecution called two expert witnesses on the reasonable use of deadly force by law enforcement and related police practices. The Star Tribune has a useful summary of the testimony here. Please see it along with the Collins/Feshir piece here for good narrative accounts of what transpired inside the courtroom yesterday.
Yesterday’s testimony also took up the inadequacies of the BCA investigation. Jon Collins and Riham Feshir take up the critique of the BCA investigation that appears in the trial testimony in this MPR piece.
The defense will call expert witness Emanuel Kapelsohn in turn after the prosecution rests. Judge Quaintance held a pretrial hearing on the use of expert testimony in the case. Her order is posted here on the court’s Noor trial page.
Amy Sweasy is a highly experienced and capable prosecutor of violent crimes. She is assisted by her younger colleague Patrick Lofton. If you think that the Hennepin County Attorney hasn’t done its best to prevail in this case, think again. Observing the trial from inside the courtroom, I can say that they are all in. They have spared no effort to win the case. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know what he is talking about.
The first prosecution expert to testify was Lt. Derrick Hacker. Hacker serves in the department of the Crystal (Minnesota) Police Department. (Crystal is an inner-ring Twin Cities suburb.) He is serving as a prosecution expert on his own time. He has an incredible resume. He looks like a Minnesota version of the actor Brian Keith. He instructs officers on the use of force. He was an impressive witness. This was his first trial testimony as an expert witness. He doesn’t do it for a living.
This case has certain irreducible facts. Taking the facts on their face (including Justine’s alleged slap), according to Hacker, they don’t make out a case for the use of deadly force by Officer Harrity or by Noor in the defense of Harrity. She was a woman coming out barefoot in her pajamas to make contact with the police whom she had called in aid of a third party. Over and over again, Hacker stood by the facts to restate his opinion that the use of deadly force was unjustified.
When defense counsel Peter Wold began his cross-examination, he was confident.
He made a good point or two before we broke for lunch. After lunch, Peter got essentially nowhere. Hacker didn’t give an inch. I thought that Peter concluded the cross-examination with an obvious air of defeat, in part because of evidentiary rulings by Judge Quaintance that tied his hands.
After Hacker the prosecution called Timothy Longo, Sr. Longo is a nationally renowned expert. I was impressed that the prosecution found him to work on this case. He served, most recently, as the chief of police of the city of Charlottesville. He is now creating a master’s degree program on police issues for the University of Virginia while teaching as an adjunct professor teaching the police use of force at the University of Virginia Law School. You can get a glimpse (and I mean a glimpse) of his background at his law school page here.
The prosecution concluded its direct examination of Longo at the end of the day. Cross-examination will begin this morning when the court convenes at 11:00. I will offer my judgment on his testimony tomorrow after I have heard all of it.