The shooting of Justine Ruszczyk and trial of former officer Mohamed Noor

Expert raps Noor's decision to fire; Ruszczyk 'did nothing wrong'

Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor (center)
Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor (center) during his trial on April 10, 2019.
Cedric Hohnstadt for MPR News

Updated 7:08 p.m. | Posted 11:36 a.m.

A police use-of-force expert testified Wednesday that Mohamed Noor violated his police training the night he shot 911 caller Justine Ruszczyk and that "no reasonable police officer" would have perceived Ruszczyk as a threat as she approached the squad in her pajamas.

Ruszczyk "did nothing wrong" that night in the alley by her home, Crystal police Lt. Derrick Hacker told the court as he testified for the prosecution. "Police are approached daily. This happens routinely."

Hacker and former Charlottesville, Va., police chief Tim Longo took the stand as use-of-force witnesses for the prosecution. Both were critical of Noor's decisions that night.

Longo described it as a "shoot first, ask questions later mentality."

Hacker said he believes from his analysis of evidence that Noor had his gun out as he and his partner, officer Matthew Harrity, drove through the alley and that Ruszczyk was 4 feet from their squad vehicle when she was shot.

Under cross examination, defense attorney Peter Wold asked Hacker how he came to conclusion that Noor had his gun out as the two drove down the alley before the shooting. Hacker said he relied partly on a defense investigator's interview with Noor.

Those reports by the defense have not been public. Their mention offered the court its first indirect look at what Noor said happened that night.

After Judge Kathryn Quaintance excused the jury, she asked to see the report, which hasn't been admitted to evidence.

She was told by attorneys that there are two reports. The Jan. 10, 2019 report by William O'Keefe, which says Noor holstered his firearm after he and Harrity had reached the end of the alley, and a report revised the next day which says that Noor only took his gun out after he heard a noise and was startled.

Quaintance told the attorneys that both reports are hearsay unless the author is brought in to testify about the discrepancy. "It's too important to handle in this third-hand way," she said.

Noor chose not to talk to Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigators, as is his constitutional right. It's not yet clear whether he will testify in his own defense.

No longer on the force, Noor is charged with second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the killing of Ruszczyk, also known as Justine Damond, in July 2017.

She had called 911 to report what she thought was an assault happening behind her home. Investigators say Noor, one of the responding police officers, shot Ruszczyk through the open driver's side window of the squad as she approached.

Whether or not Ruszczyk slapped the police squad as she approached that night has become a key question at the trial. Prosecutors say the thump was a story made up later and that Ruszczyk could not have been considered a threat.

Noor's defense attorneys have argued the officer fired to protect his terrified partner after hearing a thump on the squad and then seeing a figure by the driver's side window raise their right arm. An expert testified Monday that Ruszczyk's fingerprints were not found on the squad.

Hacker told the court Wednesday that being startled doesn't justify deadly force, and that an officer must first have to identify an actual threat.

"The most reasonable force in this situation would have been no force at all," he said.

Hacker's testimony was visibly upsetting to the Ruszczyk family, especially as he went through what he said Noor and Harrity should have done.

Later in the day, Wold pressed Hacker on when deadly force is justified. Hacker said it would be when there's apparent threat of death or great bodily harm.

Wold asked if that meant an officer should wait until they're shot.

It's a life-and-death decision, Hacker responded, adding that seeing a figure with an arm raised isn't reason enough to take a life.

Longo called Noor's use of deadly force "unreasonable, unnecessary and disproportionate to any perceived threat."

Longo dismissed the idea that Ruszczyk was somehow at fault for approaching the police vehicle.

"At the end of the day," he said of Ruszczyk, "this is a citizen who called the police seeking a public service, who has every right to go out (to the squad) and be sure that her community is safe."

Longo has not yet been cross-examined by Noor's attorneys. He'll resume his testimony Thursday.

Defense attorneys also plan to introduce their own witness on the appropriate use of force, Emanuel Kapelsohn, who also testified for the defense at the 2017 trial of former St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the killing of motorist Philando Castile. Yanez was acquitted.