Ex-officer's lawyers want charges dismissed in Ruszczyk death

Former Mpls. police officer Mohamed Noor
Former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor leaves the Hennepin County Public Safety Facility with his attorney, Thomas Plunkett, left, after posting bail Wednesday night, March 21, 2018, in Minneapolis.
Jeff Wheeler | Star Tribune via AP File

Updated: 7:45 p.m. | Posted: 6:48 p.m.

Defense attorneys want charges dismissed against a former Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed an Australian woman last year.

Attorneys for ex-officer Mohamed Noor argue in motions filed Wednesday that the charges should be dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct and lack of probable cause.

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Noor is charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the July 15, 2017, death of Justine Ruszczyk, a 40-year-old life coach who was engaged to be married. She was killed after calling 911 to report a possible sexual assault.

Prosecutors say Noor was in a squad car's passenger seat when he shot Ruszczyk through the driver's side window after she approached the vehicle. Noor's attorneys argue Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman's statements about the case "have undermined Officer Noor's fundamental right to a fair trial."

"The Hennepin County Attorney's statements in this case are irresponsible, inexcusable and rise to a level of professional misconduct that cheats citizens out of a fair trial," they wrote in their filings.

A spokesperson for Freeman's office declined to comment Wednesday. A hearing on the motions is scheduled for Sept. 27.

The defense points out that Freeman told a group of activists in a recorded conversation in December, before Noor was charged, that he didn't have enough evidence yet, investigators "haven't done their job" and having enough evidence to make a charging decision would be "the big present I'd like to see under the Christmas tree."

"His comments are not merely racially and culturally insensitive — they are full of animosity. They mock due process. They deny due process," the attorneys argue.

The arrival of the 32-year-old Noor, a Somali-American, on the force had been celebrated by city leaders and Minnesota's large Somali community.

Noor's attorneys also argued that the third-degree murder charge does not meet the "depraved mind" standard under Minnesota law.

Noor's partner the night of the shooting, Officer Matthew Harrity, said both he and Noor "got spooked" when Ruszczyk approached their sport utility vehicle, and that Harrity feared for his life.

Harrity, who was driving, said he heard a voice and a thump on the back of the squad SUV, and glimpsed a person's head and shoulders outside his window. Noor fired through the open driver's side window, fatally shooting Ruszczyk in the abdomen.

Prosecutors contend Noor acted recklessly and was not justified in using deadly force. But the defense contends Noor's actions "were the product of a split second reaction."

"Officer Noor's actions to defend his partner and himself, in the context of that night, are not evidence of the depraved mind envisioned by the courts for the last hundred years," the defense filings say.