Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor concerned psychiatrists and training officers about his fitness for duty long before he fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond, new court records show.
Revelations about Noor's past were introduced by Hennepin County prosecutors on Wednesday in response to a motion by defense attorneys to dismiss the third-degree murder and manslaughter charges filed against him in Damond's death.
Noor was flagged by two psychiatrists during the pre-hiring evaluation in early 2015 after he exhibited an inability to handle the stress of regular police work and unwillingness to deal with people, according to the records.
The report went on to say that Noor was more likely than other police candidates to become impatient with others over minor infractions, have trouble getting along with others, to be more demanding and have a limited social support network. They showed he "reported disliking people and being around them." And yet, since Noor exhibited no signs of a major mental illness, chemical dependence or personality disorder, he was deemed "psychiatrically fit to work as a cadet police officer for the Minneapolis Police Department," the filing said. Given the inconsistencies in the report, a civilian human resources employee followed up with the psychiatrist two weeks later, seeking clarification. The psychiatrist, Dr. Thomas Gratzer, stood by his recommendation.
Michael Quinn, a former Minneapolis detective-turned-consultant, said 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, 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."
Noor was charged in March with Damond's death after responding to her 911 call about a woman in distress near her south Minneapolis home. He became the first Minnesota police officer in recent memory to be charged with murder in an on-duty killing. He was fired from the force on the same day. His lawyers have said that he acted in self-defense. The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis has appealed the dismissal.
Noor's attorneys, Thomas Plunkett and Peter Wold, could not be reached for comment. The Hennepin County Attorney's Office declined to comment.
Elsewhere in the filings, one training officer noted in a report that on Noor's third to last training shift in the spring of 2016, he at times didn't want to take calls, instead driving in circles when he could have assigned himself to them. The calls were for simple matters, such as a road hazard or a suspicious vehicle where the caller was unsure of whether the car was occupied.
In another instance, an officer noted that Noor told a 911 caller that he would follow up on a report of a possible burglar, but never did. The field training officer later said that it bothered her that Noor never bothered to check the area, because police are bound to "do our due diligence on this job."
The documents also outlined the events leading up to the shooting, saying that Noor had gone from his off-duty job of working seven hours of security at a Wells Fargo branch to his shift, which went from 4:15 p.m. to 2:15 a.m. the following morning.
Prosecutors said the shift included a report of a woman with dementia wandering at the area of 50th and Xerxes. An hour and a half later Damond would call 911 from the same location to report a woman in distress. In both cases, multiple 911 calls were made in an effort to have police arrive more quickly, and in both, the officers cleared the call in minutes without investigating further.
After responding to Damond's call, Noor and his partner, Matthew Harrity, rolled down the alley with their guns drawn. They stopped at the end of the alley, when Damond apparently approached the vehicle and Noor fired his weapon.
Prosecutors said "there is no evidence" that Noor saw Damond or tried to warn his partner that he'd drawn his gun and was preparing to fire. Nor, they continued, did he attempt to tell "anyone to stand back, show their hands, or identify themselves."
"He made no attempt to identify a threatening situation, let alone de-escalate one," the motion said. If the defendant had made an inquiry into the circumstances, he would have realized Ms. Ruszczyk was an unarmed woman who had called 911 twice to report a possible crime, and who wanted to speak to him and Officer Harrity before they drove away, having conducted only the most cursory, less-than-two-minute investigation into her calls."
Filing: Aimed gun at driver's head
Roughly two months before the shooting, Noor put a gun to the head of a motorist pulled over for a minor traffic stop, according to the prosecution filing.
Noor stopped his squad on 24th Street west of Nicollet Avenue and got out "with his gun pulled and pointed downward," the court document read, citing squad car video. "When the defendant approached the driver's side of the stopped car, the first thing he did was point his gun at the driver's head."
Noor's partner approached the stopped vehicle on the passenger side, also with his gun out of its holster but not pointing directly at the driver, the filing read.
An initial police incident report explained the reason for the stop: the officers saw the driver give the finger to a bicyclist and then pass a vehicle on the right without signaling.
Neither Noor nor his partner on that shift filed anything further or "documented their display of force or any justification for it," the prosecution filing read. The driver was ticket for failing to signal, and the citation was dismissed after Noor failed to appear at a court hearing.
A day before these latest filings, a Hennepin County judge denied a request by Noor's defense team to file a motion to suppress his medical records under seal in his upcoming trial, saying it does not reach the threshold to keep the request out of the public eye.
Last month, defense attorneys for Noor moved privately in Judge Kathryn Quaintance's chambers to keep the motion confidential, arguing that it is necessary "to protect information that he believes is confidential and medically privileged."
Noor is also the subject of two lawsuits wending through federal court, including a $50 million wrongful death suit filed by Damond's family, alleging that Noor and Harrity conspired to cover up evidence by not turning on their body cameras during the encounter. Legal experts have said the Damond suit could produce a record payout.
Libor Jany • 612-673-4064 Twitter:@StribJany