Prosecutors seek additional charge against Noor

Trial of ex-officer accused in July 2017 shooting set to begin April 1

Mohamed Noor was surrounded by cameras as he left the Hennepin County Government Center following a September omnibus hearing in his murder trial. File photo

UPDATE: Judge Kathryn Quaintance on Dec. 7 allowed the prosecution to amend the complaint against Mohamed Noor to include the second-degree murder charge.

The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office is asking the court to add another, more serious murder charge against the former Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed a Fulton-neighborhood woman while on duty in July 2017.

A motion filed Thursday asks Fourth District Judge Kathryn Quaintance to add a charge of second-degree murder against Mohamed Noor. At a September omnibus hearing, Quaintance ruled there was probable cause to charge Noor with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Justine Damond, also known as Justine Ruszczyk.

Noor is represented by criminal defense attorneys Tom Plunkett and Peter Wold. Messages were left with both attorneys Friday afternoon, but they did not immediately respond.

Prosecutors say they are allowed to amend the charges against Noor prior to the start of the trial, currently scheduled for April 1. The motion notes that, with Quaintance’s September ruling, “the court has already found probable cause for the first three elements of second degree murder,” adding that a jury could find their case against Noor contains the fourth element: intent to kill.

County prosecutors argue that intent can be inferred from the circumstances of the shooting, which took place at night in a dark alley behind Damond’s home. Damond had called 911 to report a possible sexual assault and was shot when she approached the police vehicle driven by Noor’s former partner, Officer Matthew Harrity.

Noor, sitting in the vehicle’s passenger seat, reached across Harrity to fire the fatal shot out the driver’s side window.

“(Noor) fired at (Damond) from no more than six feet away,” prosecutors wrote in the motion. “He fired with tragic accuracy, managing to send a 9 millimeter bullet across his partner’s body and through the narrow space of the open driver’s side window.”

The motion states that Damond was struck in the torso about five inches above her waistline. As a trained police officer, prosecutors allege, Noor “was fully aware that such a shot would kill Ms. Ruszczyk, a result he clearly intended.”

The motion cites what could prove a crucial segment of Quaintance’s written order in September affirming probable cause for the two charges then facing Noor. In that order, the judge wrote: “Defendant either saw and fired at what he believed was a person, or he fired into the darkness at an unknown target.”

Prosecutors argue the second scenario described in the judge’s order — Noor firing at an unknown target in the dark — meets the definition for third-degree murder, which is defined, in part, as “eminently dangerous” act “without regard for human life.” But prosecutors say the first scenario — Noor firing at “what he believed was a person” — meets the standard for a charge of second-degree murder.

If Noor stands trial on the additional charge and a jury finds his guilt proven beyond a reasonable doubt, it would then parse the evidence and decide whether a third- or second-degree murder charge is more appropriate.