MINNEAPOLIS — The partner of a Minneapolis police officer who fatally shot an unarmed woman who had called 911 to report a possible crime testified Thursday that he heard a thump on the officers’ squad car right before the shooting and feared a possible ambush.
Officer Matthew Harrity’s testimony echoed a key claim by Mohamed Noor, who fired a single shot at Justine Ruszczyk Damond as she approached the officers’ squad car on July 15, 2017. Damond had placed two 911 calls that night to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home. Struck in the abdomen, the 40-year-old dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia, quickly bled to death in an incident that sparked anger and disbelief in both countries.
Harrity, who was driving, described a tense scene, with he and Noor rolling down the dark alley with headlights off, using a spotlight to search for any evidence of a woman in trouble. Harrity said at one point took a safety off his holster, but that when they neared the end of the alley without finding anything, he thought he had replaced it.
Harrity — wearing his uniform and appearing composed on the stand — testified that he had a “weird feeling” to his left but couldn’t make out what it was.
“At this time I hear something hit the car and I also hear some sort of murmur,” he said. He immediately drew his gun and held it to his ribs pointing downward, he said.
Prosecutor Amy Sweazy asked Harrity if he always pulled his gun when startled. He said it depends.
“In this situation, with the thump and being startled, I went straight to, ‘This could be an ambush,'” Harrity answered. He added: “My first thought is, I’m going to make sure whatever it was is not a threat to me.”
Harrity said as he tried to make sense of what was happening, he heard a pop and looked over to see that Noor had fired across him and through the window.
Neither officer had their body cameras running at that point, something Harrity blamed on what he called a vague policy that didn’t require it. Both men switched them on afterward, and a portion of Harrity’s was played Thursday.
It shows efforts by the two men to save Damond with CPR. Damond’s labored breathing is hard, with Harrity saying, “Stay with me, stay with me, stay breathing.” He also is heard addressing his partner: “Noor, breathe, just breathe.”
At one point, as Harrity steps away to get medical supplies, he cautions Noor to slow down the CPR, and reassures Noor that an ambulance is coming.
A medical examiner testified earlier that Damond was hit in a key artery and lost so much blood so quickly that even faster medical care might not have saved her.
It’s not clear whether Noor will testify.
Damond was white. Noor, 33, is a Somali American whose hire two years before the shooting was celebrated by Minneapolis leaders as a sign of a diversifying police force in a city with a large population of Somali immigrants.
Much of the prosecution’s early case focused on the handling of the crime scene by police and state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents, including possible missteps. They also highlighted officers turning their body cameras on and off repeatedly after the shooting.