MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — A Minnesota judge found “probable cause” Thursday to advance charges against a police officer who fatally shot an unarmed Australian woman.
Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, 32, faces second-degree manslaughter and third-degree murder charges for the shooting death of Justine Damond Ruszczyk, who called 911 to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home. When Ruszczyk approached the squad car, Noor shot her.
In a brief hearing this morning, Hennepin County District Judge Kathryn Quaintance denied Noor’s motion to dismiss both charges for lack of probable cause. Noor’s attorneys argued that the amount of media attention the case had received would violate Noor’s right to a fair trial.
Although he has not yet entered a plea, Noor’s attorneys say he intends to plead self-defense.
Attorneys from both sides filed several motions prior to Thursday’s hearing, shedding light on events leading up to the shooting and information about Noor – including his psychological evaluation and the training he undertook with the Minneapolis Police Department.
Defense attorney Thomas Plunkett argued in court documents that Noor believed he was in danger when he shot Ruszczyk. He also argued that the “depraved mind” element of third-degree murder was lacking.
“A fair review of the evidence does not establish Officer Noor acted with a depraved mind,” Plunkett wrote in his motion to dismiss. “Instead, the evidence in the record shows Officer Noor reacted to an immediate event that his partner described as the most fearful event of his career.”
Prosecutor Amy Sweasy countered that Noor acted recklessly when he used deadly force, and that his actions were “eminently dangerous” and “created an unreasonable risk to human life.” She argued that Noor shooting near a person while not directly aiming at her constitutes the “very high degree of unjustifiable homicidal danger” required for third-degree murder.
Quaintance found Noor’s actions were “eminently dangerous to human beings and without regard for human life” when he fired into a dark alley late at night where a bicyclist was present. Records also indicate the possibility of other civilians nearby.
“Under either scenario, the jury could find that his act was dangerous to human beings and was performed without regard for human life,” Quaintance said at the hearing.
She also found sufficient evidence that Noor fired his gun without knowing who or what was outside his police car.
Four elements are required to prove Noor’s conduct constitutes third-degree murder – the first three include that Ruszczyk died, that Noor caused the death, and that the incident took place in Hennepin County. Neither Noor nor the state dispute Noor’s responsibility for Ruszczyk’s death. But Quaintance ruled that the fourth element of the crime – whether Noor’s actions were “eminently dangerous” to human beings and performed without regard to human life – will be up to the jury to evaluate.
When considering the manslaughter charge, the jury must also determine whether shooting into a dark alley created an unreasonable risk of death or bodily harm.
Quaintance also announced Thursday that she would deny Noor’s motion to suppress his psychological records, which include a 2015 pre-hiring evaluation required by the police department. Noor argued that these records should remain sealed because of patient privilege. But even though he had met with a doctor, Quaintance found patient privilege didn’t apply because the evaluation was part of a hiring procedure. It was “clear that Noor was advised that these [records] would not be confidential,” she said.
Quaintance scheduled the jury trial for April 1, 2019.