Prosecutors point to 'prior acts of recklessness and indifference' while Noor was an officer

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 March 21, 2018, in Minneapolis.
Jeff Wheeler | Star Tribune via AP file

Prosecutors are pointing to past incidents involving former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor in their effort to quash the dismissal of murder and manslaughter charges against him.

Noor, 32, shot and killed Justine Ruszczyk, 40, on July 15, 2017, after she reported a possible sexual assault in an alley near her home.

Last month Noor's attorneys, Peter Wold and Thomas Plunkett, filed motions to dismiss the case. They argue that there's no probable cause for the murder charge because Noor's actions do not meet the "depraved mind" standard under state law.

In their response filed Wednesday, prosecutors say Noor "showed a reckless disregard for human life and the evidence of his recklessness more than meets the standard for probable cause."

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In court documents, prosecutors point to several "prior acts of recklessness and indifference as a police officer" that they argue prove Noor's "state of mind at the time" he shot Ruszczyk.

On May 18, 2017, about two months before her death, Noor and another officer pulled over a driver on 24th Avenue South near Blaisdell Avenue for a suspected traffic violation. Citing squad car video, prosecutors say Noor approached the driver's side of the car, and "the first thing he did was point his gun at the driver's head."

Neither Noor nor his partner wrote a report or offered any justification for the display of force, and merely ticketed the driver for failing to signal.

Prosecutors say Noor also showed signs of trouble in his pre-employment screening and while a recruit. Before he was hired in 2015, Noor took the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, a standardized psychological test.

While the MMPI showed no diagnoses of mental illness, Noor "reported disliking people and being around them. He is likely to be asocial and socially introverted." Prosecutors also noted that "the test results indicate a level of disaffiliativeness that may be incompatible with public safety requirements for good interpersonal functioning."

However, a clinical evaluation that a psychiatrist conducted in addition to the personality test concluded that because there was no evidence of major mental illness, chemical dependence or personality disorder, Noor was "psychiatrically fit to work as a cadet police officer." But supervisors would continue to voice concerns about his performance.

In April of 2016, Noor was working with a field training officer, who followed him in plainclothes while Noor performed his regular duties. In a report written just before Noor became a regular officer, his supervisor noted that the recruit "drove around in circles" while police calls were pending instead of assigning himself to them. The training officer noted that these were basic calls, including a road hazard and a suspicious vehicle.

The supervisor also noted that Noor had trouble driving with lights and sirens. In March of 2016, the training officer said Noor had "tunnel vision" as he drove, focusing on a tiny area in front of him. The training officer had to yell at the recruit "to get him to snap out of it."

Attorneys Wold and Plunkett, argue that Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman's public statements about the case late last year constitute prosecutorial misconduct that has undermined Noor's right to a fair trial.

In December, before Noor was charged, Freeman told a group of union members that he didn't have enough evidence to file charges. Freeman said 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."

Wold and Plunkett called Freeman's comments racially and culturally insensitive and make a mockery of due process. Noor is Somali-American, and his joining of the Minneapolis Police Department was celebrated by Minnesota's large East African community.

In a separate response filed Wednesday, prosecutors argue that Noor can point to "no specific harm he has suffered nor any that is likely in the future of this prosecution." They also say there was no prosecutorial error on Freeman's part, nor are there any violations of the state's professional conduct rules for lawyers.

Prosecutors also say that Freeman was unaware that his comments would be disseminated publicly. Freeman spoke about the shooting at an after-work holiday party and "did not know nor reasonably should have known, the conversation would be recorded and put on the internet the next morning."

Reached by phone Wednesday, Wold declined to comment on the state's response to his filings, saying only that he and Plunkett are "confident in our motions."