Records: Cop accused in Australian’s death can’t take stress
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Training officers voiced concerns about a Minneapolis police officer’s fitness for duty long before he fatally shot an Australian woman who had dialed 911 to report a possible assault, prosecutors say.
A court filing from prosecutors also says that Mohamed Noor pointed a gun at a motorist’s head just two months before he fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond in July 2017.
Defense attorneys had filed a motion seeking to dismiss murder and manslaughter charges against Noor. In a response filed Wednesday, Hennepin County prosecutors said officers who were training Noor reported instances in which he had problems handling the stress of the job and seemed unwilling to engage with people.
Noor also took a psychological test in 2015 that showed he disliked being around people and had difficulty confronting others. Still, a psychiatrist found Noor was “psychiatrically fit” to work as a cadet officer . A hearing on the motions is set for Sept. 27.
Noor was fired in March, the same day he was charged. His lawyers have said he acted in self-defense, and his union is appealing his dismissal.
Damond, a 40-year-old life coach, had called 911 to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home. Prosecutors say Noor was in a squad car’s passenger seat when he shot Damond through the driver’s side window after she approached the vehicle.
The Associated Press on Thursday left a message seeking comment from Noor’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office declined to comment.
The psychological evaluation said Noor was more likely than other officer candidates to become impatient with others over minor infractions, have trouble getting along with others, to be more demanding and to have a limited social support network. The evaluation said that Noor “reported disliking people and being around them.”
But since Noor exhibited no signs of a major mental illness, chemical dependency or personality disorder in a separate a clinical evaluation, a psychiatrist cleared Noor to work, the filing said.
Michael Quinn, a former Minneapolis detective, told the Star Tribune that any of those findings should have raised red flags during the hiring process.
“You’ve got to have a sense of what’s right and what’s wrong,” said Quinn, a consultant who frequently testifies in court as an expert on police conduct. “You’ve also got to communicate with people and have some confidence and be able to deal with stress situations.”
Just two months before the shooting, Noor was involved in a traffic stop in which he and another officer pulled over a motorist for a minor traffic violation. Noor, who was driving the squad car, got out with his gun drawn. As he approached the motorist, “the first thing he did was point his gun at the driver’s head,” prosecutors said. The other officer also had his gun drawn, but did not point it at the driver. Neither officer documented their display of force.
“As in this case, the defendant used his gun to escalate a situation, introducing the element of deadly force in what should have been a routine, safe encounter with an unarmed citizen,” prosecutors wrote.
According to prosecutors, one training officer reported that on Noor’s third-to-last training shift in 2016, he sometimes didn’t want to take calls, instead driving in circles when he could have accepted them. The calls were for simple matters, such as a road hazard or a suspicious vehicle.
Earlier in his training, one officer wrote that “the higher the level of stress, the more Noor focuses on one thing and misses other things, like radio transmissions or acknowledging dispatch.”
In another instance, a training officer said Noor told a 911 caller he would follow up on a report of a possible burglar, but never did. The officer said that it bothered her that he never bothered to check the area, because police are bound to “do our due diligence on this job.”
This story has been corrected to note that Noor took a psychological test and was flagged by training officers, instead of being flagged by two psychiatrists.