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Noor trial: Bicyclist's testimony heavy on drama, light on facts

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Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor with his attorney
Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor leaves the Hennepin County Government Center with his attorney Thomas Plunkett in Minneapolis on March 29.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

 Updated: 6:05 p.m. | Posted: 1:34 p.m.

The only bystander on the scene at the time Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor shot 911 caller Justine Ruszczyk was a 16-year-old boy who'd smoked marijuana and taken four shots of whiskey.

Now 17, the boy's statements were challenged by both prosecutors and defense attorneys at Noor's trial on Wednesday morning. He admitted that his memory of the incident wasn't clear, and that he'd contradicted himself.

He said he was riding his bike over to a friend's house that July 2017 night when he saw the squad vehicle at the end of an alley.

Then, he told the court, he heard a gunshot and the woman went to the ground. He said he immediately pulled out his phone and started recording video.

He said Noor's partner, officer Matthew Harrity, went right to Ruszczyk after the shooting and Noor was pacing on the driveway. The short video shows the witness asking Noor what was happening. Noor tells him to back up, but that he can record.

The boy said he saw Noor and Harrity out of the squad, and a woman holding a phone. However, witnesses have testified throughout the trial about discovering that Noor was in the car when the shot was fired.

The boy also said Ruszczyk was wearing jeans and a tank top, although others have testified that she was wearing pajamas.

The witness admitted that his story has changed over time. He said he's tried to block out the incident, but trusted his earlier statement. MPR News is not naming the boy because he is a minor.

Harrity, the other possible witness to the shooting has not yet testified.

The prosecution also called Patricia McIlvenna as a witness. She had called 911 three times to report a woman who looked like she may have dementia and need help.

McIlvenna reported that the final location of the woman was just down the block from Ruszczyk's home. McIlvenna made the calls just two hours before Ruszczyk called 911 to report a woman being assaulted in her alley.

Noor and Harrity were also the officers sent to McIlvenna's 911 call, but they didn't find the woman. 

McIlvenna said she saw the news about Ruszczyk's killing the next morning and went to the scene to talk to investigators. "It seemed awfully coincidental," she told the court. "Someone needed to line up the dots."

McIlvenna said she talked to a Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent about the woman but that he "didn't seem real interested."

The BCA investigation was criticized by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman before he filed charges against Noor. Prosecutors have signaled that how investigators handled the case will be an issue they'll continue to explore in the trial.

Now a former officer, Noor is charged with second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the killing of Ruszczyk, also known as Justine Damond. She had called 911 to report what she thought was an assault happening behind her home. Noor was one of the responding officers.

Jurors also heard from Nancy Dunlap, a former Minneapolis police lieutenant, who worked on the Noor case as an investigator for the Hennepin County Attorney's Office. Prosecutors say Dunlap, who investigated sex crimes for MPD, got involved in the case because BCA investigators weren't willing to follow a number of leads.

Dunlap established a timeline for the night of the shooting and testified that Noor and Harrity had just taken their dinner break and resumed their shift at 11:12 p.m., about 15 minutes before Ruszczyk's 911 call.

Dunlap testified that Noor and Harrity sat for over 20 minutes when they should've been responding to an earlier 911 call about a woman who appeared lost or possibly had dementia.

The prosecution presented the evidence as they try to make a case for Noor's state of mind the night of the shooting and whether his actions to shoot were reasonable.

Dunlap also researched the number of times Noor and Harrity activated their body cameras before the night of the shooting. She said Noor had activated his five times, and Harrity never had prior to the event. Neither officer started recording in time to capture what happened to Ruszczyk, but both activated their cameras in the aftermath.

Dunlap also canvassed the neighborhood and looked into Ruszczyk's concerns about a woman screaming behind a building. She never found the source of the reported noise.

She testified that she looked into missing-persons calls and sexual assault cases trying to connect the dots. She found one possibility — a kidnapping and sexual assault reported 16 blocks away, but her investigation concluded that it wasn't connected.

Day 13 of the trial started with defense attorney Thomas Plunkett telling the court that Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo issued a directive to police officers telling them not to attend the trial. 

"This was out of concern that the attendance of officers observing in the courtroom might have an adverse impact on the trial and those in attendance," MPD spokesperson John Elder said. Elder confirmed that Arradondo issued the directive on April 10.

Plunkett says it's unfair to Noor and affects his ability to have an open and public trial. He asked the court to request that Arradondo rescind his order.

Judge Kathryn Quaintance said she has no authority over what the chief does with his staff.