MINNEAPOLIS — The verdict is in, the jurors have gone home. The monthlong trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor culminated Tuesday in his conviction on murder and manslaughter charges in the shooting death of 911 caller Justine Ruszczyk.
But plenty of questions remain. Hennepin County prosecutors revealed missteps by the cops who responded to the fatal shooting and potential failures by the state investigators who were tasked with getting to the bottom of it.
Here are six questions that still haven't been answered:
1) Have any Minneapolis police officers been disciplined for what happened on the night of the shooting?
Prosecutors painted a vivid picture of a chaotic and seemingly disorganized scene in the hours after the shooting on July 15, 2017.
During testimony, they turned up the heat on Noor's supervisor, Sgt. Shannon Barnette. As the incident commander, she was in charge of gathering information about public safety and conducting the immediate investigation until it was taken over by the state's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Prosecutors prodded Barnette on why she didn't take what police officers call a "public safety statement" from Noor. The statement consists of just a few questions asked of the officer involved in a shooting to ensure there's no ongoing danger to the public or officers at the scene. Another officer, Jesse Lopez, was captured on body camera video telling Noor to keep his "mouth shut."
Prosecutors also repeatedly pressed officers, including Barnette, on why they turned their body cameras on and off at the scene. Barnette said she believed the conversations, including one she had with Noor, were private and that she wasn't required to keep the camera rolling.
MPR News has requested public documents from Minneapolis police regarding various officers who testified at trial, but has not yet received a response.
Asked this week whether any officers have been disciplined for actions at the scene, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said he can't comment due to the ongoing civil suit filed by Ruszczyk's family.
2) What changes has the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension made in investigations of police shootings?
The trial exposed what prosecutors contend was a lack of thoroughness on the part of BCA agents. Gov. Tim Walz said this week he's looking into criticisms that the initial investigation was inadequate.
BCA special agent Brent Petersen took over as lead investigator of Ruszczyk's death five months after the shooting. He testified that at that time, the BCA had interviewed only two officers who had responded to the scene. The agents who initially were in charge of the investigation also played central roles in the investigation into the police shooting death of Philando Castile in 2016.
Following the Ruszczyk shooting, BCA agents failed to follow up with a witness who reported calling 911 to report a woman with dementia in Ruszczyk's neighborhood hours before the shooting. Noor and his partner responded to that call.
Prosecutors also alleged that BCA agents refused to investigate the source of the noise that prompted Ruszczyk to call 911 that night; she told a dispatcher it sounded like a woman was being assaulted. BCA assistant special agent in charge Chris Olson testified that a neighbor told him that there was a family of raccoons on the block that could have made the noise. Olson admitted on the witness stand that he didn't look into the source of the noise any further.
The BCA also took heat for appearing to give deferential treatment to Noor's partner, Matthew Harrity. He wasn't interviewed until three days after the shooting — and the questioning took place over coffee and doughnuts at his attorney's home. Olson admitted to prosecutor Amy Sweasy that waiting to conduct the interview is a courtesy commonly extended to police officers, but not to civilians.
3) What would have happened if the victim were black and the officer were white?
The racial dynamics were at the forefront of the case since the shooting occurred. Noor is black, Somali-American and Muslim; Ruszczyk was white and raised in Australia. Critics of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman say he wouldn't have prosecuted the case so aggressively if the roles had been reversed. Freeman has denied race had anything to do with his prosecuting decisions and insisted he has charged white officers with other crimes.
Race came out in key moments of the trial. Potential jurors were asked about their experiences with Somali-Americans. And while cross-examining Noor, prosecutor Amy Sweasy implied Ruszczyk could not have been perceived as dangerous: "The whole blonde hair, pink T-shirt and all is a threat to you?"
4) What happened at a meeting of officers in the Hennepin County Government Center cafeteria after the shooting?
A new detail emerged at trial indicating the scope of the lack of cooperation among Minneapolis police officers with the BCA's investigation. As prosecutors questioned a police officer on the stand, they alleged officers and union officials met secretly after the shooting in the government center's basement cafeteria to discuss withholding information from the criminal investigation.
Prosecutors say the meeting took place before 20 police officers refused to talk to investigators. Last year, Freeman accused uncooperative Minneapolis police officers of leaving him no choice but to call a grand jury that would compel them to testify about the shooting. And during the Noor trial, prosecutor Patrick Lofton reiterated that "officers en masse were refusing" to talk to investigators.
But before testimony on the matter could continue, Judge Kathryn Quaintance ruled the prosecution could not question witnesses about the meeting, calling it irrelevant to Noor's case. She referred to the meeting as a "conspiracy or whatever it is."
Defense attorney Peter Wold argued that any suggestion of the conspiracy was reckless.
But the judge clarified that she wasn't joking when she called it a conspiracy: "If 20 officers are meeting in the basement to decide not to tell what they know to the county attorney's office, that is a problem. But I don't think it's Mr. Noor's problem."
Quaintance told prosecutors they could ask officers about their refusal to cooperate, but not about "secret meetings." It didn't come up again during the trial.
5) Why was Noor's squad vehicle not preserved more carefully?
How the BCA treated the squad vehicle Noor was in when he shot Ruszczyk was also a continuing question at the trial.
After the squad was processed for evidence at the scene, the BCA returned it to the Minneapolis police, who washed it and put it back into service. A police officer was ordered to drive the car to the BCA lot about five days later, but wasn't told to wear gloves or take other precautions to preserve evidence. More forensic testing was later conducted on the vehicle.
Prosecution expert witness and former Charlottesville, Va., police Chief Timothy Longo said the decision to return the vehicle to Minneapolis was "pretty disturbing." Kathy Waite, who is now the deputy police chief in Minneapolis, testified at the trial that she disagreed with how the agency collected evidence on the squad.
6) Why did Mohamed Noor and Matthew Harrity's body cameras have different buffer times than normal?
There is no known body camera footage of Ruszczyk being fatally shot by Noor. This is despite the fact that body cameras worn by Minneapolis police officers have an ongoing 30-second buffer when they're activated. That means that 30 seconds of video footage is captured before an officer presses the button to activate the recording.
During the trial, BCA agent Donald Cheung testified that Noor's body camera video had a buffer of just seven seconds. And Harrity's body camera had a buffer of only 15 seconds.
Efforts by the investigators to extract more video from the body cameras were unsuccessful. Judge Quaintance said during the trial that disparities in Harrity and Noor's body camera buffer times would be pretty obvious to jurors. Defense attorney Tom Plunkett brushed away questions about the different buffering time in his closing argument, saying he knows why the different buffer times exist: "technology — it never works how it's supposed to."
This story originally appeared at: https://www.mprnews.org/story/2019/05/03/6-things-we-still-want-to-know-after-the-trial-of-mohamed-noor