Daily Mail: Friends say Minneapolis officer "startled" into shooting

The officer who shot and killed an unarmed Justine Damond in Minneapolis over the weekend has chosen not to talk with investigators, as is his right. Is Mohamed Noor talking with friends about the controversial shooting? The Daily Mail’s Shekhar Batia says yes, and Noor is telling them that the victim “startled” him and was carrying something he could not make out. Bear in mind that these friends remain entirely anonymous, and there are reasons to be skeptical of this account, starting with the sensational lead sentence and the choppy grammar:

Killer policeman Mohamed Noor has said he was ‘startled’ by his victim Justine Damond seconds before he opened fire. …

According to Noor’s version when they reached the end of the alley, they came across a waiting, panicking figure.

It was dark, and the figure was moving around and approached their vehicle.

Noor said he did not know whether the figure who rushed towards their vehicle was the 911 caller or even if it was a man or woman.

He his weapon [sic] through Harrity’s open driver’s window hitting his victim once in the abdomen.

Power Line’s John Hinderaker quips that “the Daily Mail rushes in where others fear to tread, so take this story with a grain of salt.” Does it make much sense for a police officer to flap his gums to friends when he has wisely chosen to let his attorney handle the matter? Not particularly, although human beings often do contradictory and self-defeating things, too. This doesn’t appear to be the kind of conversation one would have with casual friends, and since we don’t know the names or relationships in Batia’s sourcing, it’s difficult to know how much credit to give this account.

On the other hand, this account does line up more or less with the information on the shooting released by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension so far. The lights on the police cruiser were turned off, which is understandable on a call for a potential active assault. Police usually go in silently in an attempt to capture the perpetrator before they have a chance to run or panic into more deadly behavior. Damond had approached the vehicle in the dark and did have a cell phone in her hand, which Noor’s alleged friends note in their narrative too. None of this helps Noor’s case at all, however, as it does not excuse a use of lethal force. Police are expected to discern threats more carefully than this, precisely to avoid an outcome where the person who called the police ends up getting shot for it.

Another possible point in the Daily Mail’s favor is a predictable attempt by these alleged friends to paint Noor as the victim in this case:

The officer, who is now suspended form the Minneapolis P.D., feels he has been ‘thrown under the bus’ by his Minneapolis police colleagues, the friend said.

‘He is aware that they normally come together at times like this and support each other with slogans like ‘Blue Lives Matter’. …

‘He feels like he is being thrown under the bus and his colleagues are accusing him of not showing proper police conduct on Saturday night. His feeling is ‘I am an immigrant, a Muslim and not white… but that is OK as I know the Somalian community and friends will support me.’

Keep that grain of salt in mind here, too, especially because Noor’s fellow police officers are the only potential allies he’ll have. It doesn’t make much sense to alienate them as well at this point. If it’s true that his colleagues are distancing themselves from Noor, it’s probably because they realize that “I was startled” doesn’t cut it for a police shooting, especially when the victim was unarmed. That likely has a lot more to do with their reaction than his ethnicity. If Batia’s sources are on the level, Noor’s colleagues will certainly appreciate that accusation of racism, ya you betcha.

Interestingly, Noor’s union has decided to keep its mouth shut as well. Minneapolis Police Federation President Lt. Bob Kroll explains that it has less to do with Noor than it does with getting burned once before:

The fatal shooting of Justine Damond by a Minneapolis police officer has elicited strong reactions, from Mayor Betsy Hodges to Australia’s prime minister, who this week demanded answers in what he called a “shocking killing.”

But one voice was conspicuously missing: that of the union that represents the city’s 860-plus police officers. …

Kroll said that Hodges and Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau “condemned me for my swift response” after he came to the defense of the two officers involved, Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze [in the Jamar Clark shooting]. Both were later cleared in separate federal, state and internal probes.

“The chief came out one complete year later and regurgitated what I said,” Kroll said in a series of text messages Tuesday. “But I was the hated [one] for it all.”

Noor’s decision to keep quiet, while almost certainly the best choice legally for him, complicates matters for Kroll and the MPF, even apart from getting burned in the response to the Clark shooting. Without getting his side of the story directly, the union has no way to publicly defend him or at least offer a mitigating spin on the events. And if the version offered in the Daily Mail really does represent Noor’s defense, Kroll would likely have nothing much to offer in either defense or mitigation.