Did a slap on a fender “startle” a Minneapolis police officer into shooting an unarmed woman? The search warrant granted to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in its investigation of the shooting and death of Justine Damond by Mohamed Noor offers more specificity on the source of the noise that allegedly provoked the shooting. According to the warrant, as seen by Minnesota Public Radio, an unnamed woman “slapped” the back of the patrol car before Damond approached the driver-side window:
Before Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor shot Justine Ruszczyk through the open driver’s side window of his squad, a woman had approached the back of the patrol car and “slapped” it, according to a court document filed Monday. …
A search warrant was filed by Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigators to look at the area where the shooting happened and gather evidence as part of the investigation.
The gap between correlation and causation can be seen in this quote:
“Upon police arrival, a female ‘slaps’ the back of the patrol squad,” according to the search warrant. “After that, it is unknown to BCA agents what exactly happened, but the female became deceased in the alley.”
But the document doesn’t explicitly say it was Ruszczyk who slapped the back of the police cruiser. It also doesn’t say whether that was the loud noise that Noor’s partner, Matthew Harrity, said he heard and was startled by before the shooting.
That’s a pretty big gap between some female slapping a fender and Justine Damond “became deceased in the alley.” It’s also a remarkably passive voice; became deceased? Is there any question that she became deceased because Noor shot her? It’s not as if a cloud descended on Damond and life slipped mysteriously from her body. Granted, the BCA has to take care not to assume facts that have not yet been established when requesting warrants, but Damond got shot, which is pretty specific and germane to the investigation.
Bear in mind that there are only three witnesses to the incident — the two officers and a cyclist who may or may not have video that can deconstruct the shooting. The man who actually fired the weapon won’t talk even with legal counsel, which means that all we know is that the “slap” didn’t startle Harrity enough to fire his weapon. At this point, we don’t even know whether Harrity drew his weapon even though he’s cooperating with the investigation.
At any rate, don’t expect this to mitigate Noor’s use of lethal force. All it explains is why Damond’s presence might have startled Noor and Harrity, not a case for reasonable fear of life. Some on social media suggested that this narrative was intended by the BCA to excuse the shooting, but if anything it’s more damning than exculpatory. If Damond approached the car from the rear and tapped or slapped the fender first, then Noor had time to assess the situation before drawing and firing his weapon as she approached the driver’s side window than if she just appeared out of nowhere after a “loud noise.”
Meanwhile, a look at the history of the two police officers involved in the shooting has not produced much to explain the incident, except perhaps for a lack of experience:
The records show Officer Mohamed Noor was hired as a cadet in March 2015. In September of that year, he received a letter saying he passed his Peace Officer Licensing Examination and was eligible to become a licensed, sworn officer.
The records also show Noor took multiple training courses, including recent in-service training about active shooter situations during the Super Bowl, which will be held in Minneapolis next year. His file also says he passed all of his annual semi-automatic, handgun and shotgun qualifications, but there are no additional details about how he performed.
To some extent, this relates to a separate topic. Noor received enough training to deal with this one specific situation, which is what matters in the inevitable criminal case that will follow. His specific evaluations will likely matter in the inevitable civil case the family brings against Minneapolis, but will have little to do with the criminal case unless the defense really wants to allege incompetence rather than negligence, which would be a strange legal strategy. The issue of training and fast-tracking will matter for a broader debate in the Twin Cities over recruitment and preparation, and not just in the Minneapolis police force.