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Noor trial: Cop says he heard thump before shot; horrific video played

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Minneapolis police officer Matthew Harrity
Minneapolis police officer Matthew Harrity leaves the courtroom for lunch break with his attorney Fred Bruno, left, Thursday in Minneapolis.
Leila Navidi | Star Tribune via AP

Updated 5 p.m. | Posted 10:52 a.m.

Minneapolis police officer Matthew Harrity testified Thursday he heard a "thump" and a "murmur" in the alley and feared a possible ambush before his partner, officer Mohamed Noor, shot and killed 911 caller Justine Ruszczyk.

Harrity is the only other person alive besides Noor who can speak to all of what happened in the alley that night in 2017.

His testimony was emotional at times as he spoke of the fears police officers confront daily and the mental agony he suffered in the shooting's aftermath.

The court was gripped by its own anguish as Harrity's body camera video was played, capturing Ruszczyk's last moments gasping as the officers tried to save her through CPR. The angle of the body camera, positioned so closely to Ruszczyk as she lay dying, made it excruciating to watch.

At one point in the video, another officer who arrived at the scene is heard asking about suspects in the shooting. Noor replies, "It's ours."

Harrity told the court that he was startled by a noise in the alley, pulled out his gun and pointed it down, then saw a figure out of the corner of his eye when Noor fired.

His comments appeared to back up arguments made by Noor's attorneys, who've said Noor fired his gun that night while sitting on the squad's passenger side because he feared for his and Harrity's lives after hearing a thump and seeing a figure by the squad shortly afterward raising an arm.

Prosecutors, however, say talk of a thump was a made-up story that surfaced only later, that no officers discussed hearing such a sound and that Ruszczyk, barefoot and in her pajamas that night as she approached the squad, could not have been considered a legitimate threat to the officers.

Harrity testified that when they drove into the alley that night, he took the hood off his holster.

He added that he didn't want to "mess with" turning on his body camera if someone was going to "jump out" at him, but said he also didn't think the possibility of a threat was high enough to require him to turn it on. He turned his camera on in the shooting's aftermath.

After Noor shot, Harrity said he checked himself to see if he'd been shot, glanced peripherally at Noor and then saw the figure step back. 

Minneapolis police officer Matthew Harrity
Minneapolis police officer Matthew Harrity testified Thursday he heard a "thump" and a "murmur" in the alley and worried of a possible ambush before his partner, officer Mohamed Noor, shot and killed 911 caller Justine Ruszczyk.
Cedric Hohnstadt for MPR News

He got out of his squad and helped her to the ground because he "didn't want her to hurt herself more."

Asked at one point by prosecutor Amy Sweasy why he didn't shoot if he was startled, Harrity said because he didn't get a chance to "analyze the threat" and couldn't shoot at a shadowy figure before seeing the actual target and the person's hands.

Harrity said he thought of her as a threat until the shot was fired, then he saw her hands and saw she wasn't a threat.

Earlier in the day, Harrity testified that he saw every call he responded to as a threat "until it isn't a threat anymore. It's kind of a scary way of thinking. It's a safety measure. I just want to be ready."

Harrity had been on the Minneapolis force for a year in July 2017 when he and Noor responded to Ruszczyk's 911 call. She had reported what she thought was an assault happening behind her home in the Fulton neighborhood.

Ruszczyk, he said, then approached the driver's side window of the squad and Noor fired once, hitting Ruszczyk through the open driver's side window.

Noor, no longer on the force, is charged with second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the killing of Ruszczyk, who was also known as Justine Damond. He has declined to talk about the shooting.

Under questioning from Noor attorney Peter Wold, Harrity testified that he felt a "sixth sense" that someone was on his left in the alley that night, "almost like something is crowding me on that side."

Harrity ended his initial testimony to the prosecution by challenging comments made by Sgt. Shannon Barnette, the police supervisor on the scene the night Noor shot Ruszczyk.

Barnette has refused to cooperate with a state investigation into the shooting. 

On Wednesday, Barnette testified that she had several conversations with Harrity well after the shooting spoke to him once at the scene. 

She also said Harrity had told her that Ruszczyk had a "stunned look" on her face.

On Thursday, however, Harrity, denied he had ever spoken to Barnette about the case.

Harrity also recounted his personal battles with the aftermath of the Noor shooting. He said he cried for two days afterward and would "sit and stare at a blank TV" with the sounds of gunshots in his head.

The trial resumes Monday.