Noor jury pool asked about experiences with Somali community and police

Mohamed Noor with his attorneys Peter Wold and Thomas Plunkett.
Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, center, enters the Hennepin County Government Center with his attorneys Peter Wold, left, and Thomas Plunkett, right, on Monday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Updated 5:28 p.m. | Posted 12 p.m.

Seventy-five people, known only by numbers on cards hung around their necks, began filling out juror questionnaires Monday — the start of the trial of ex-Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor in the 2017 killing of 911 caller Justine Ruszczyk.

Security was high at the Hennepin County Government Center given the high-profile nature of the case. A dozen security officers and sheriff's deputies stood outside the hearing room. Even the potential jurors were run through additional weapons screening and were asked to turn over their electronic devices.

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Noor is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for shooting and killing Ruszczyk, also known as Justine Damond, in July 2017 after she called 911 because she thought she heard a woman being assaulted in the alley behind her home.

Every chair available to public and media at the hearing Monday was full, including reporters from Australia, Ruszczyk's native country. The trial is expected to last three to four weeks.

Inside the courtroom at Mohamed Noor's trial on Monday, April 1, 2019.
This sketch shows the inside of the courtroom during ex-Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor's trial on Monday.
Nancy Muellner for MPR News

Quaintance told the jury pool that they're not investigators and should avoid all media reports on the trial. She also told them that they'd be known only by their numbers until there was a verdict.

The state, she said, must prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt, adding: "There is no such thing as an innocent verdict in the American judicial system. The verdict is either guilty or not guilty."

In an order Monday, Quaintance said her office received "threatening phone calls" concerning her rulings on evidence to be allowed and excluded during trial.

Because of that, she said juror identities would remain confidential to protect them from "unwanted publicity or harassment that may endanger their impartiality."

The questionnaire includes questions about prospective jurors experience with Somali-Americans and whether they've had "any particularly positive or negative experiences with persons of Somali descent or heritage."

Noor is Somali-American.

It also asks whether prospective jurors, their family or friends "participate in any group that protests against police or government agencies" or in any group that "discriminates against any race" or "claims superiority over other races."

Another question asks potential jurors if they feel like they've been "treated unfairly by a police officer" and if they see police officers as more or less credible than other witnesses.

Jurors were free to leave Monday once they finished the questionnaire. They'll be called into the courtroom starting Wednesday to be questioned by lawyers for the prosecution and defense in smaller groups.

Prosecutors also released a nine-page list of their potential witnesses. Ninety-one Minneapolis Police Department employees are listed, including now-Chief Medaria Arradondo and Noor's former partner Matthew Harrity.