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Minnesota cop's trial raises questions about code of silence

The incident commander turned her body camera off when talking to Mohamed Noor in the moments after the July 2017 shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, while other officers told him not to say a word, according to prosecutors and court testimony.

Posted: Apr 16, 2019 1:23 PM

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Testimony in the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed an unarmed woman after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault near her home has shined a light on officers' actions at the scene and raised questions about whether they were trying to protect one of their own.

The incident commander turned her body camera off when talking to Mohamed Noor in the moments after the July 2017 shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, while other officers told him not to say a word, according to prosecutors and court testimony. Many responding officers turned their body cameras on and off at will; one had his camera recording while headed to the scene and shut it off upon arrival.

"These are extremely troublesome things," said Phil Turner, a defense attorney and former federal prosecutor in Chicago who is not connected to the case. "They're law enforcement officers and they are supposed to enforce the law equally, whether someone is a sworn law enforcement officer or not."

Noor, 33, is on trial for murder and manslaughter in the death of Damond, a 40-year-old dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia who was shot while approaching the squad car that Noor and his partner, Officer Matthew Harrity, were in. Defense attorney Peter Wold said in his opening statement that Noor heard a loud bang on the squad car and feared an ambush. But prosecutors say there is no evidence of any threat to justify deadly force.

Noor and Harrity did not turn on their body cameras until after the shooting.

The shooting got instant international attention, led to the forced resignation of the city's police chief, and led to changes in the department's policy on body cameras. It also raised questions about a "blue wall of silence" as prosecutors said they had to convene a grand jury to compel officers' testimony because many refused to provide statements.

Turner found this allegation troubling, saying officers around the U.S. have been covering for each other for years. He pointed to the aftermath of the 1991 police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles. An independent commission found the code of silence among officers to be "perhaps the greatest single barrier to the effective investigation and adjudication of complaints" about police behavior.

"It's the same thing, even back then," he said. "It's been going on for a long time."

More recently, Chicago was rocked by claims of a cover-up in the 2014 fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Officer Jason Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder at a trial in which several officers reluctantly testified against him. A judge later acquitted three officers of staging a cover-up, dismissing as just one perspective the dashcam video of Van Dyke opening fire as McDonald walked away from police and continuing to fire after the teenager crumpled to the ground.

At Noor's trial, some officers have described arriving to a hectic, confusing situation in which they didn't initially know Damond had been shot by an officer. Officer Jesse Lopez told Noor: "Just keep to yourself. Keep your mouth shut until you have to say anything to anybody."

Prosecutors have also raised questions about the noise that Harrity later told investigators precipitated the shooting. Harrity initially told the incident commander that the officers got spooked, prosecutor Patrick Lofton told jurors. But the first mention of a possible slap on the squad car came not from Noor or Harrity but rather from others at the scene who made assumptions about what happened, according to Lofton. The first time Harrity mentioned anything about a loud noise on the squad car was days later, when he spoke with state investigators.

Prosecutors also have told the court that about 20 police officers refused to talk to investigators and met with union officials to discuss withholding information.

Union president Lt. Bob Kroll, who is listed as a possible witness, told The Associated Press he could not comment. But in an interview with the Star Tribune, Kroll dismissed the idea that officers were withholding information.

"That's an easy sweeping statement to make and without some concrete hard evidence, which they won't find in this case," Kroll said.

A police spokesman did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Body cameras have been seen as one way to counter the "blue wall." Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who was the assistant chief at the time, testified that officers should have left theirs on. Arradondo said that under the department's body camera policy at the time, officers were expected to hit record when conducting traffic stops or "any sorts of contact where an officer believes that there may be an adversarial situation that develops."

But officers were given wide discretion. The revised policy requires officers to activate the cameras in most public encounters. Still, it gives officers latitude and says they can temporarily deactivate their cameras to discuss an incident with a co-worker.

Sgt. Shannon Barnette, the incident commander, was asked Tuesday why she turned her camera on and off. She said the department's policy on cameras "was confusing."

In court documents, Judge Kathryn Quaintance cautioned prosecutors against making arguments about a general code of silence among officers based on their behavior at the scene. Prosecutors argued in court documents that statements and behaviors of some officers show bias as to why certain evidence was not gathered or kept.

"The jury should question the credibility of any officer's testimony if he or she demonstrates an unwillingness to give full or truthful testimony because of a bias toward police," prosecutors wrote.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 604184

Reported Deaths: 7620
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1248631774
Ramsey52480895
Dakota46804470
Anoka42746458
Washington27416291
Stearns22552224
St. Louis18137312
Scott17548135
Wright16370149
Olmsted13391102
Sherburne1201295
Carver1066448
Clay825892
Rice8196110
Blue Earth762543
Crow Wing681594
Kandiyohi667885
Chisago619752
Otter Tail585884
Benton582998
Goodhue483874
Douglas475381
Mower470733
Winona461251
Itasca459263
Isanti439964
McLeod430361
Morrison424662
Nobles407950
Beltrami407561
Steele397616
Polk389072
Becker386655
Lyon363853
Carlton352756
Freeborn346932
Pine335023
Nicollet331045
Mille Lacs311654
Brown307840
Le Sueur297226
Cass286032
Todd285632
Meeker263142
Waseca238023
Martin235332
Roseau211021
Wabasha20783
Hubbard196441
Dodge18783
Renville182446
Redwood176338
Houston174616
Cottonwood167124
Wadena162823
Fillmore157410
Faribault154419
Chippewa153938
Pennington153820
Kanabec146828
Sibley146810
Aitkin138837
Watonwan13579
Rock128719
Jackson122612
Pipestone116726
Yellow Medicine114920
Pope11296
Murray107010
Swift106918
Koochiching95217
Stevens92411
Clearwater89016
Marshall88817
Wilkin83213
Lake83120
Lac qui Parle75622
Big Stone6044
Grant5938
Lincoln5843
Mahnomen5669
Norman5479
Kittson49022
Unassigned48293
Red Lake4017
Traverse3775
Lake of the Woods3453
Cook1720

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 370914

Reported Deaths: 6048
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk58232640
Linn21204339
Scott20306247
Black Hawk16119312
Woodbury15238230
Johnson1461585
Dubuque13506211
Dallas1128999
Pottawattamie11223174
Story1071448
Warren583991
Clinton561493
Cerro Gordo553593
Sioux517074
Webster515494
Muscatine4880106
Marshall486676
Des Moines467271
Wapello4337122
Buena Vista426940
Jasper421172
Plymouth402981
Lee382356
Marion366076
Jones300957
Henry294637
Bremer288261
Carroll286852
Crawford268540
Boone268434
Benton259655
Washington256751
Dickinson249344
Mahaska232351
Jackson225242
Clay216627
Kossuth216166
Tama211871
Delaware210943
Winneshiek198535
Page194522
Buchanan193733
Cedar192223
Hardin187444
Fayette186543
Wright185940
Hamilton181851
Harrison179973
Clayton171057
Butler166235
Madison164619
Mills163724
Floyd163342
Cherokee159338
Lyon158841
Poweshiek157036
Allamakee152652
Hancock150234
Iowa149824
Winnebago144531
Cass139255
Calhoun138913
Grundy137333
Emmet135841
Jefferson133435
Shelby131537
Sac130920
Union129935
Louisa129749
Appanoose129049
Mitchell126643
Chickasaw124717
Franklin123323
Guthrie123232
Humboldt119626
Palo Alto113523
Howard104922
Montgomery103638
Clarke100924
Keokuk96532
Monroe96330
Unassigned9560
Ida91535
Adair87332
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Davis85225
Monona82931
Osceola78916
Greene78011
Lucas77923
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