Opening statements to begin in trial of former Minneapolis police officer
Opening statements are scheduled to be given Tuesday in the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer accused of fatally shooting Justine Ruszczyk, an Australian-born woman killed a month before her wedding.
Mohamed Noor, a 33-year-old Somali American, has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the 2017 shooting that led to protests in the city and the resignation of the Minneapolis police chief.
Jury selection began a week ago. A jury of 10 men and 2 women was seated Monday morning, CNN affiliate WCCO reported. There are four alternates, two men and two women.
Authorities said Ruszczyk called 911 on July 15, 2017, and reported a possible sexual assault in an alley behind her house. Officers Matthew Harrity and Noor were dispatched to the scene and arrived in a squad SUV at 11:37 p.m., according to a criminal complaint. At 11:40 p.m., Ruszczyk was shot in the abdomen and died minutes later at the scene.
Harrity told investigators he heard a noise and was startled by a glimpse of a person coming up to the officers’ SUV, the complaint states. Prosecutors said Noor, sitting in the passenger seat, pulled out his gun and shot across the vehicle to hit Ruszczyk, who was outside the driver’s side door.
In announcing the charges, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Noor acted recklessly.
“In the short time between when Ms. Damond Ruszczyk approached the squad car and the time that he fired the fatal shot, there is no evidence that Officer Noor encountered a threat, appreciated a threat, investigated a threat, or confirmed a threat that justified the decision to use deadly force,” Freeman said.
The officers were wearing body cameras but did not turn them on before the shooting, and the squad car camera did not capture the incident, investigators said. The Minneapolis Police Department has since updated its body camera policy to direct officers to turn on their body cameras upon being dispatched to a scene.
As with many cases involving police shootings, the trial is likely to revolve less around who carried out the shooting than on whether it was a legally justified use of force. Harrity has identified Noor as the shooter, and testing of the bullet determined it was fired from Noor’s gun, the complaint states.
In general, officers on trial for shootings are rarely convicted, partly because jurors tend to give police the benefit of the doubt, experts say. A former East Pittsburgh police officer was recently found not guilty in the fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager.
Ruszczyk had traveled from her native Australia to Minneapolis to live with her fiancé, and she was killed a month before her planned wedding. She had trained as a veterinarian but then became a spiritual healer, yoga and meditation instructor and life coach, she said on her web page.