MINNEAPOLIS — Months before the shooting death of Justine Damond and the international headlines that followed, prosecutors say there was a routine traffic stop that shows former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor had a history of “unnecessarily escalating force.”
KARE 11 obtained police dashcam video – never seen publicly before – of the May 18, 2017 traffic stop.
Prosecutors want to show the video to the jury when Noor is scheduled to go on trial in April. He is accused of second degree murder in the death of Justine Damond Ruszczyk, an Australian-American woman who was shot and killed after police responded to her 911 call for help.
In court filings, prosecutors argue the video of the traffic stop shows Noor pointing his gun “at a man’s head” when the driver was pulled over for a minor traffic offense. It is one of three “prior acts” they want to introduce “to prove the common scheme or plan of unnecessarily escalating force, his intent and state of mind at the time of the crime, and that he committed the crime without justifiable accident or mistake.”
Noor’s defense attorneys are fighting to keep the video out of court. They argue the prosecution’s description of the incident is “grossly misleading.” The defense says Noor was justified in pulling his gun and he had it in “'low carry’ pointing down between himself and the driver.”
Watching a routine traffic stop
Police reports indicate that on May 18 Noor and his partner at the time spotted a car passing another vehicle on the right without using a turn signal.
KARE 11 requested police dashcam and bodycam video of the incident through the state’s open records law. We watched it with an expert who is not involved in the Noor case.
Retired now, Mylan Masson served on Minnesota’s Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training and was Director of the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Center at Hennepin Technical College.
When the driver of the car being pulled over stops, the video shows him briefly learning over to his right. Masson says that gives officers reason to be concerned.
“At that point they’re wondering if he’s reaching for a gun.” Masson said.
WATCH THE FULL DASHCAM VIDEO BELOW OR CLICK HERE:
The video shows officer Noor and his partner that day, Justin Schmidt, both approach the car with their weapons drawn.
“Do you believe it was then justifiable to walk up with guns drawn?” reporter A. J. Lagoe asked Masson.
“Yes. Absolutely, yes,” she replied. “Just because of the way he made that movement in the car.”
But Masson said she is troubled by what happens next. The video shows Noor standing close to the car pointing the gun in the driver’s direction.
“And then he starts almost putting it in the car,” Masson said as she watched the video.
“You’ve trained police officers for a number of years. What would you be pointing out that should be done differently?” Lagoe asked.
“The way the gun was so close to the driver,” Masson said. Masson thinks the gun should have been pointed down - ready if needed, but not threatening.
“It looks like officer Noor is almost using his gun like you would a finger, pointing it around here. Is that an appropriate or safe use of an officer’s firearm?” Lagoe asked.
“It’s not a safe use, no,” Masson said.
She says holding a gun within reach of the driver is risky because a criminal could try to grab it.
“Both the driver and the officer were put at risk in your opinion?” Lagoe asked.
“Absolutely. Yes, yes,” she said. “It was way too close, it was too close to the person."
Body camera not activated
The video KARE 11 obtained reveals another problem.
Even though he approached the car with his gun drawn, officer Noor never turned on his body camera.
Officer Justin Schmidt also had his weapon drawn when he walked up to the other side of the car but didn’t activate his body camera until halfway through the incident.
Although the officer’s coat blocks much of the view, the camera captures Schmidt’s voice as he argues with the driver about why he was pulled over.
Officer: “You can’t proceed into the intersection – "
Driver: “I was in the intersection – "
Officer: “Would you shut up and let me talk!"
WATCH THE FULL BODYCAM VIDEO BELOW OR CLICK HERE:
So, what happened as a result of the traffic stop? The driver was ticketed for failing to obey traffic signs and signal. But it was thrown out by a judge when neither officer showed up to court.
In the end, Masson doubts the traffic stop video is likely to be a smoking gun piece of evidence that proves or disproves anything in the murder case against Noor.
“The prosecution is going to say this, and the defense is going to say that. And they’re both right,” she said after watching both videos.
“In the end you think it’s a wash?” Lagoe asked.
“I think so. Yeah,” Masson replied.
The driver shown in the traffic stop video said he did not want to speak publicly about the incident. His attorney told KARE 11 he has been subpoenaed to testify at Noor’s upcoming trial.
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