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Noor trial: Accused officer's partner takes the stand

While Officer Matthew Harrity is technically a prosecution witness, his testimony is also critical to the defense's assertion that Noor pulled the trigger thinking they were being ambushed.

MINNEAPOLIS — The jury heard long-awaited testimony from the partner of former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor on Thursday in Noor’s murder trial for the shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.

Along with hearing from Matthew Harrity, the jury watched his heartbreaking body camera video of the fatal shooting. In it you see him telling Noor to holster his gun, and Harrity performing CPR. 

On the video, Harrity keeps saying, "Stay with me ma'am. Stay with me." You can see Noor pacing. "Noor, breathe. Just breathe," Harrity says. Then, "Noor, CPR for me. Stay on it. ... Slow down, you're going a little fast."

Noor says, "Where is the ambulance?" And Harrity says, "They're coming."

Don Damond, Justine's brother Jason Ruszczyk, and his wife left the courtroom for the playing of the body camera video. John Ruszczyk and his wife remained, holding hands, and sobbed through the whole thing. One juror was extremely distressed.

In one of the strongest moments for the prosecution, Prosecutor Amy Sweasy told jurors she had asked Matthew Harrity in front of the Grand Jury why he didn't shoot, and she read the jury his answer: "Because I didn't know what the target was. And you can't just fire at a silhouette." But Harrity did not say anything that incriminating at the jury trial. 

In his testimony, Harrity began by describing the call that led to the fatal shooting from the beginning. He said they were driving down the alley, looking for any signs of a person in distress.

When asked why he didn't have his body camera on, Harrity said, "I was more concerned with my well-being, and I'm not going to sit there messing around with my camera if not required in our policy."

Prosecutor Amy Sweasy said, "All you need to do is tap it right? Takes a second?" Harrity said, "Yes, but it also takes a second to be attacked." Sweasy added that policy did require activation if one thought they were going to be in an adversarial situation. Harrity said, "If thought 100 percent, yeah."

RELATED: Noor trial: Mpls. Sergeant grilled over body cam use

Harrity had just said that he had flipped the hood on his holster prior to turning into the alley. That's the first step of three steps in pulling his gun out of his holster.

What did Harrity think he would encounter in the alley? He made a point of saying he thought it was probably just kids yelling. Growing up in south Minneapolis, "I was out that time of night hollering," Harrity said. "I thought of it as myself. Could be kids."

Then when asked why he took the safety off the holster, Harrity said, "It was a vague call." He didn't know if someone was being injured, but he was thinking it was just kids screaming. "Either way, every call I consider a threat until it's not a threat anymore," he said.

Sweasy asked: "You considered kids screaming to be a threat?" Harrity clarified that no, he considers everything a threat and then checks things off when he can rule them out.

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Harrity described turning the headlights off, driving down the alley using a spotlight, then stopping when he heard a noise. "I heard what sounded like an animal making a noise, whiny constant barking noise," he said. "I remember basically saying, 'I wonder if that's what the caller heard.'"

He said the noise was a mix of a dog barking and whining from inside a house. On Wednesday, the prosecution's investigator had testified that the only dog she could find on the block was Justine's dog. 

Harrity said he didn't connect this call with the earlier call of a woman needing help.

RELATED: Noor Trial: Mpls. Police Chief says body cams should have been on

Sitting at the end of the block, Harrity described getting ready to self-assign to a new call. When asked if they discussed calling the 911 caller back first, he said, "No we did not." Sweasy questioned him on why they didn't circle the block to look farther, like they did on the earlier call of a woman in distress.

Noor and Harrity were in the alley for one minute and 56 seconds before the shot was fired. "That was the total amount of time you spent looking for someone?" Sweasy asked. "Yes," Noor responded.

Then Harrity said he saw the bicyclist coming to his right while Noor appeared to be typing in the computer. Sweasy made sure Harrity said it was light enough that he could recognize the bicyclist was a young male -- at least a quarter-block away.

Harrity recalled saying, "Oh, I'll wait until this bicyclist passes, then we'll go to the next call." They did not consider stopping the bicyclist to ask about the current call they were on. 

Then Harrity described panning back and forth, "when I have some weird feeling to my left." He got a glimpse of something, "a tree or person, it was a silhouette of something." 

"I hear something hit the car, then I hear some sort of murmur," he said. "Hard to tell which came first. That's when I start reaching for my firearm, pull the head off, first retention out of holster."

Sweasy said, "You heard a voice?" Harrity responded, "Something hit the car, and a murmur followed it. Sounded like a voice." Harrity said he can't explain the sound hitting the car or the murmur any better than that. He was confused. He couldn't tell if it was a male or female.

Sweasy asked, "Something hit the squad?" And Harrity said it sounded like a thump on his side, on the back.

Why did he go right for the gun? "I didn't know if it was a threat to me or not. I said, 'Oh sh*t,' or 'Oh Jesus.' It startled me. The saying is, 'Jump out of your seat.'" 

Harrity explained he got his gun completely out and held it at his ribcage pointing down. He said he had no trouble getting his gun out. 

RELATED: Noor trial: Jury sees body camera video of Ruszczyk shooting

Sweasy asked if he had been startled before as an officer, and Harrity said yes. Sweasy then asked if he always pulls his gun out of the holster when startled. He said there are times he has, and times he hasn't. He has to weight the circumstances.

Harrity described his "checklist" when evaluating a threat. He said he saw figure there, dark-looking. He couldn't tell if it was a male or female. "I think, person, see head and shoulders. Then, are they trying to do harm to me? Then I'm looking for a dangerous object that could harm me."

Sweasy asked why he didn't activate his body camera. Harrity said, "Because I was thinking of my safety first." Sweasy asked, ahead of the citizen who needed help on the call? "At the time, yes," Harrity said. "I was going to make sure I went home safely at the end of the night."

Sweasy asked whether he had already erased from his mind that call to the alley. Could it have been the victim? Or the 911 caller approaching them? Harrity said he stopped thinking about that call when they cleared it Code 4.

Then Harrity described the shot, not sounding like how you would expect a gunshot. He said it sounded like a light bulb dropped on the ground. "A mellow pop," and he saw a flash. 

Harrity said he never heard anything from the person outside the window. He couldn't see her hands and never saw a weapon. He didn't see her cell phone either. She made no gestures he thought were threatening to him.

Sweasy said, "The sole fact of her appearance startled you?" Harrity said, "Yes, and the thump." 

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Sweasy then asked a very critical question to the prosecution's case: "Who had the better view?" She meant of the figure at the window; him in the driver's seat or Noor in the passenger seat. 

Harrity said, "I'd like to think I did. But I can't speak for his view."

Harrity described still not knowing it was a shot from Noor. He felt himself for blood, then looked over and Noor seemed to be OK. Then he looked outside to see if the person at the window was OK. 

This part of the testimony was a little confusing because Harrity also described seeing Noor holding a gun, not out in front of Harrity, but just pointed at his side "like holding a beer mug."

Harrity said he doesn't recall any words between himself and Noor. He thought that Justine was 2 feet away from the window when shot. (Note: At Grand Jury he said 3 feet). Then he thinks she backed up another few feet.

He saw that Justine was a female with longer hair, holding her left abdomen, "And that's when she said something to the effect of, 'I'm dead' or 'I'm dying,'" Harrity said. 

Harrity then said Noor helped him guide her to the ground. (Note: This may be disputed, since Noor still had his gun out on the body camera video.)

Sweasy then asked Harrity if he thought the woman had anything to do with the 911 call. Harrity said, "No, I really didn't care because she was hurt and needed help, and I didn't think, just acted."

Harrity described Noor as either standing or keeping lookout for him as he knelt over Justine. "Why would he be keeping lookout for you?" Sweasy said. Harrity kind of shifted gears with his answer.  

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"Did you search her for weapons? Handcuff her?" Sweasy asked, to which Harrity replied no. "It was clear immediately when you saw her, that she wasn't there to hurt you," Sweasy said. "When I didn't find a threat," Harrity replied.

When asked by Sweasy why he turned his body camera on at this point, Harrity said, "As far as I knew policy, as soon as I can safely turn it on after citizen contact or use of force." Sweasy pointed out that he must not have anticipated citizen contact going into the alley.

When Defense attorney Peter Wold cross-examined Harrity, he asked if "death or great bodily harm was apparent," meaning use of deadly force was authorized, and Harrity answered, "It was a possibility." 

After Harrity was cross-examined, Prosecutor Sweasy questioned Harrity again. She reminded him of that answer, that it was a possibility, not apparent, and Harrity added, "I hadn't analyzed the threat yet."

At this point, Sweasy read the answer Harrity gave in front of the Grand Jury when she asked why he didn't shoot: "Because I didn't know what the target was. And you can't just fire at a silhouette."

Overall, it was clear that Harrity supports Noor. He said he loved working with Noor. Harrity didn't want to concede anything to the prosecution, but they still did a good job addressing that he had a better view than Noor and still didn't shoot.

At one point, Harrity started crying on the witness stand, talking about the effect of the shooting on him. He described staring at a blank TV, hearing gunshots, and not being able to hear his wife. Noor started crying, too.

Noor's body camera video was viewed as well, and it was basically the same as Harrity's. When an arriving officer asked about  a suspect, Noor said, "It's ours." The officer said, "You did?" And Noor said, "Yeah."

RELATED: Noor's trial will be closely watched in U.S. and Australia

While Harrity is technically a prosecution witness, his testimony is also critical to the defense's assertion that Noor pulled the trigger thinking they were being ambushed.

According to the criminal complaint filed against Noor, Harrity told BCA investigators days after the shooting that while sitting in the end of the alley waiting for a bicyclist to pass, “Officer Harrity heard a voice, a thump somewhere behind him on the squad car, and caught a glimpse of a person’s head and shoulders outside his window.” The complaint goes on to say, “Officer Harrity said he was startled and said, 'Oh sh*t or Oh Jesus,' perceiving that his life is in danger."

Prosecutors indicated that they plan to challenge those details, since Harrity never mentioned anything about a sound on the car the night of the shooting. Sgt. Shannon Barnette’s body camera video captured Harrity saying “we both got spooked” and “I had my gun out. I didn’t fire. And then Noor pulled out and fired.”

KARE 11's Lou Raguse, who has been reporting on each day of the Noor trial, says central to Harrity's testimony will be what kind of sound he actually heard prior to the shooting. He didn't mention a sound the night of the shooting, according to body camera video presented in court. But he did mention the slap days later in his BCA statement.

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