The Silha Center Bulletin: Winter/Spring 2019: Volume 24, No. 2
On April 9, 2019, Hennepin County, Minn. Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Kathryn Quaintance reversed an earlier ruling in which she had limited public and media access to key evidence in the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor, who was found guilty on April 30 of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter after shooting and killing 40-year-old personal health coach Justine Damond in 2017. Minnesota v. Noor, No. 27-CR-18-6859 (2019). The shooting of Damond, an Australian-American woman whose maiden name was Ruszczyk and was soon to be married to her fiancé, Don Damond, garnered international attention, prompting media and transparency advocates to push for greater access to the trial, as well as to photographs and police body-worn camera (BWC) footage connected to the case.
The incident began shortly after 11:30 p.m. on July 15, 2017 when Noor and fellow officer Matthew Harrity responded to a 911 call by Damond, who was reporting a possible assault in an alley in Minneapolis’ Fulton neighborhood, as reported by CNN and the Minneapolis Star Tribune the following day. Within minutes, Noor and Harrity arrived in a police car outside Damond’s home, according to Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) News on July 16, 2017. The Star Tribune reported that witnesses said that Damond had walked towards the vehicle in her pajamas, approaching the driver’s side door.
In an interview with investigators, who later corroborated the details of the media reports, Harrity said he was startled by a “loud sound,” which, allegedly, was Damond slapping or thumping the back of the police SUV, though prosecutors refuted this allegation during the ensuing jury trial, which began on April 1, 2019. Moments later, Noor, who was in the passenger seat, allegedly pulled his gun and shot across Harrity, who was in the driver’s seat, through the driver’s side window, hitting Damond in the abdomen. Damond, who was not carrying a weapon, died at the scene.
In the ensuing months, several media outlets reported that details remained largely unclear, with investigators and prosecutors relying almost solely on interviews to determine what transpired. The Associated Press (AP) reported on Sept. 18, 2017 that although Noor and Harrity had eventually turned on their BWCs after the shooting, they had missed the most pivotal moments, despite the Minneapolis Police Department’s (MPD) BWC policy requiring the officers to activate the cameras in a “critical incident,” such as “the use of deadly force by or against a Minneapolis police officer.” It was later reported by CNN on March 26, 2018 that the officers had turned their BWCs on and off several times, as well as muting the cameras. Responding Officers Scott Aikins’ and Thomas Fahey’s BWCs recorded part of the aftermath of the shooting. Additionally, the AP reported there was no dash camera footage of the shooting or its aftermath.
On July 26, 2017, The New York Times reported that the MPD had changed its BWC policy. Whereas it previously included only a limited list of situations in which BWCs must be activated, the policy was amended to include a list of specific situations in which the cameras must be turned on, such as immediately after the officers start responding to a 911 call or when a situation “becomes adversarial.” The policy change also codified disciplinary measures for not activating BWCs, which could include termination, according to the Times.
On Sept. 11, 2017, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) announced that it had completed its investigation into the shooting, according to WCCO-TV, the Twin Cities’ CBS affiliate, the following day.
On March 20, 2018, Hennepin County, Minn. Attorney Mike Freeman filed a complaint against Noor in the Fourth Judicial District Court. The original complaint included one count of third-degree murder, a felony that carried a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and a minimum sentence of three years. The complaint argued that Noor “cause[d] the death of [Damond] by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life, while using a firearm.” MPR News reported on March 20, 2018 that it appeared to be the first time a Minneapolis officer had been charged with murder in a fatal shooting while on duty, citing the acquittal of St. Anthony officer Jeronimo Yanez, who was charged with manslaughter for shooting and killing Philando Castile during a Falcon Heights, Minn. traffic stop in 2017.
Count II was second-degree manslaughter, which carried a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine. The complaint contended that Noor “caused the death of [Damond] by his culpable negligence,” meaning he “created an unreasonable risk and consciously took a chance of causing death or great bodily harm to [Damond] while using a firearm.” The complaint also included an arrest warrant to be served against Noor. The full complaint and warrant are available online at: https://www.mprnews.org/story/2018/03/20/noor-booked-jail-ruszczyk#docs.
On Nov. 30, 2018, the Star Tribune reported that prosecutors intended to add a second-degree murder count in addition to the existing charges, reasoning that Noor shot Damond from close range and with “tragic accuracy” past Harrity and through a “narrow space of the open driver’s window.” On December 11, the prosecution, after a series of motions and other proceedings, formally filed an amended complaint, which included the second-degree murder charge. The amended complaint contended that Noor “caused the death of [Damond] with intent to effect the death of that person or another, with a firearm.” The felony charge carried a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison.
On Sept. 19, 2018, MPR News reported that Hennepin County prosecutors wanted the court to prohibit the disclosure of some evidence in the case, including grand jury testimony, performance review documents, and BWC video of the aftermath of the shooting, reasoning that it was confidential data under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA). Minn. Stat. § 13.01 et seq. The prosecutor’s motion is available online at http://mncourts.gov/mncourtsgov/media/High-Profile-Cases/27-CR-18-6859/Memo091918.pdf.
On March 29, 2019, the Star Tribune reported that during a pretrial hearing on the same day, Judge Quaintance had announced several restrictions on public and media access to the forthcoming jury trial. Citing the need to preserve “order and decorum,” Quaintance and Fourth Judicial District Chief Judge Ivy Bernhardson ordered that the trial remain in a courtroom containing about two dozen seats, about half the size of other courtrooms in the same building, according to the Star Tribune. Quaintance also banned electronic devices, including cellphones, laptops, and recording devices, from the courtroom, as well as from an overflow room that provided additional seating.
Additionally, Quaintance announced that the public and reporters would not be provided access to the BWC video recorded after the shooting of Damond, nor to additional photos from the medical examiner’s office. Quaintance ruled that only jurors would be able to see the footage, citing privacy concerns over the public seeing the video that shows Damond in “extremely compromising situations,” according to the Star Tribune. The Order on Conduct at Trial, which was filed on March 27 and signed by Quaintance and Bernhardson, is available online at: http://mncourts.gov/mncourtsgov/media/High-Profile-Cases/27-CR-18-6859/OrderonConductatTrial032719.pdf.
In a March 29 interview with the Star Tribune, Silha Center Director and Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law Jane Kirtley contended that the restrictions would pose First Amendment problems. “There’s been a deliberate decision made here to limit access by the press and public,” Kirtley said. “I appreciate the concerns that are being raised here, but it seems to me that [the courts] are overlooking the fact that the public and the press have a First Amendment right of access to a criminal proceeding like this one.”
In a March 29 interview with MPR News, University of Minnesota law professor Heidi Kitrosser agreed that Quaintance’s restrictions raised First Amendment problems. She contended that although the court offered an overflow room for additional members of the media and the public, “the restrictions sound extreme enough that the [news organizations] would have a good case that this raises First Amendment problems.” MPR News noted that the Barron County District Court in Wisconsin handled press coverage differently in the trial of Jake Patterson, who was accused of kidnapping teenager Jayme Closs and killing her parents in the winter of 2018/2019. The court “went as far as allowing news organizations to live-stream audio and video from the courtroom,” according to MPR News.
In response to Quaintance’s order, on March 29, Ballard Spahr LLP attorney Leita Walker wrote a letter to Bernhardson on behalf of a coalition of media organizations that included the Star Tribune Media Company, LLC, CBS Broadcasting Inc., MPR, TEGNA, Inc., and Fox/UTV Holdings, LLC (collectively “Coalition”). The letter first stated the Coalition was “extremely concerned about what it anticipates to be woefully inadequate press and public access to the Noor trial.”
Second, the letter contended that the court “did not consult . . . with the press corps that will be covering the trial,” which would have allowed a “better understanding about the sort of access that the Constitution requires and that journalists need to accurately and thoroughly report on trial proceedings.” Third, Walker asserted that because the “high-profile criminal trial” was “plainly of the utmost public interest and concern,” the small courtroom was not large enough to accommodate the necessary members of the public and press.
Fourth, the letter noted that the First Amendment and common law guarantee press and public access to criminal proceedings, citing Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior Court, 457 U.S. 596, 606-607 (1982) and Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 580 (1980), in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that “the right to attend criminal trials is implicit in the guarantees of the First Amendment.” Walker added that “[e]ven if the courtroom doors remain technically open,” access to the courtroom must be “meaningful.”
Finally, the letter raised particular concern about paragraph 24 of the original and Amended Order on Conduct at Trial, which was issued by Quaintance and Bernhardson on March 28. The paragraph in question stated, “The attorneys in this case have ethical obligations with respect to their public statements about this case. The witnesses in this case have been sequestered. The jurors will be instructed not to speak with anyone about this case. These limitations shall be respected by members of the public and the media in attendance.” The full amended order is available online at: http://mncourts.gov/mncourtsgov/media/High-Profile-Cases/27-CR-18-6859/OrderonConductatTrial032719.pdf.
Walker argued that the statement was “vague and ambiguous” and therefore “threaten[ed] to chill the exercise of the Coalition’s free speech rights under the First Amendment.” Walker contended that although the Court “may be able to sanction” trial participants who speak to the media about the case, the Court “may not sanction the media” (emphasis in original). She cited Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart, in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that restricting the media’s freedom to communicate with trial participants and to report what they say would constitute a prior restraint, “the most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights.” 427 U.S. 539, 559 (1976). Walker also cited Near v. Minnesota, in which the Court held that the “chief purpose of the guaranty [of freedom of the press is] to prevent previous restraints upon publication.” 283 U.S. 697, 713 (1931). Walker’s full letter is available online at: http://stmedia.startribune.com/documents/Leita+Walker+letter.pdf.
In a Second Amended Order on Conduct at Trial filed on April 1, Quaintance and Bernhardson eased the restrictions on the public and press. First, although they did not move the trial to a larger courtroom, they did provide seven additional seats for the press and also reaffirmed access to an overflow room of 78 seats, which would now include video in addition to audio streaming. According to the Minnesota Judicial Branch’s website, 15 seats were reserved for members of the media, six for local media, including the Star Tribune, MPR News, KSTP-TV, KARE-TV, and nine for national or international outlets, including The New York Times, AP, ABC Australia, and Channel 9 Australia.
Second, Quaintance struck the sentence from her original and first amended order that would have required the media to respect the limitations placed on those involved in the case, according to the Star Tribune and MPR News. The full Second Amended Order is available online at: http://mncourts.gov/mncourtsgov/media/High-Profile-Cases/27-CR-18-6859/SecondAmendedOrderonTrialConduct040119.pdf.
However, Quaintance did not initially rule on whether she would allow the disclosure of the BWC video, prompting the Star Tribune Editorial Board on April 2 to emphasize the importance of “both the local and international communities com[ing] away convinced that due process and fair justice have been provided to both the victim and the defendant in this sensitive case.” The Editorial Board cited Minnesota Newspaper Association (MNA) attorney Mark Anfinson, who contended that the media “are simply the conduit of information to the general public. The court should be focused on the maximum degree of public information consistent with a fair trial so that the public ends up having the highest level of confidence that the correct decision was reached.”
On April 3, the Coalition filed a “Motion Of Media Coalition Objecting To Orders That Interfere With First Amendment Newsgathering And Reporting Activities.” The motion specifically objected to:
“(1) the anticipated de facto closure of the courtroom when certain evidence — including, but not limited to, video footage and photographs — are permitted to be viewed only by the jury and other trial participants and not by the press and public [and]
(2) any gag order barring the courtroom sketch artist from depicting trial participants [including jurors] or otherwise barring members of the press from reporting on what transpires during the trial and/or on statements trial participants make outside the courtroom.”
The motion and notice of motion are available online at: http://mncourts.gov/mncourtsgov/media/High-Profile-Cases/27-CR-18-6859/NoticeofMotionandMotion040219.pdf.
In a memorandum in support of the motion, the Coalition reemphasized several of the claims made by Walker in her March 29 letter, including that the First Amendment provides an affirmative, enforceable right of public access to criminal trials, citing Richmond Newspapers and Craig v. Harney, 331 U.S. 367, 374 (1947), in which the Court held that “[a] trial is a public event. What transpires in the court room is public property.”
The memorandum provided several reasons why there is an affirmative right of public access to criminal trials, including that such access allows the press and public to ensure judicial proceedings are conducted fairly, as well as “provid[ing] an outlet for community hostility, educat[ing] the public about the judicial process, and foster[ing] an informed electorate.” The Coalition argued that in this case, “[u]nless evidence presented to the jury can be viewed by the press and public sitting in the gallery while that evidence is being discussed by trial participants, then spectators will not be able to fully understand the evidence that has been presented to the jury for its consideration or how the jury may be reacting to it” (emphasis in original).
Furthermore, the memorandum argued that the four-part test articulated in Richmond Newspapers, 464 U.S. 501, 508 (1984), and Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court, 478 U.S. 1, 13–14 (1986), which would allow a judge to restrict access to the trial and trial evidence, was not met in this case. The four-part test requires:
The party seeking to restrict access must demonstrate a substantial probability of prejudice to a compelling interest.
The party seeking to restrict access must demonstrate that there is no alternative to adequately protect the threatened interest.
Any restriction on access must be narrowly tailored.
Any restriction imposed on access must be effective in protecting the threatened interest for which the limitation is imposed.
Additionally, a court may not restrict public access to a trial “without prior notice and without making findings of fact, on the record, demonstrating that these standards have been met.”
The memorandum contended that Quaintance had not shown that the BWC video and photographs would create a substantial probability of harm to a compelling interest, but instead had only expressed concern about privacy interests and the inflammatory nature of the footage and images. The Coalition cited the trial of James Holmes for the murder of 12 people at an Aurora, Colo. movie theater in which the court rejected a request to prevent the gallery from viewing autopsy and crime scene photographs and video footage because “[t]he wishes of a deceased victim’s relatives for privacy, while completely understandable, are not sufficient to warrant partial closure of the trial as graphic images of the deceased victims are displayed in the courtroom.” The memorandum added that Minnesota law does not recognize a posthumous right to privacy.
Regarding the second part of the test, the Coalition argued that alternative remedies did exist, including the “standard practice to instruct jury members not to listen to or read news reports on the case they are considering.” Regarding the third part, the memorandum argued that a “blanket ban on public viewing of the footage and photographs while they are presented to the jury is not narrowly tailored.” Lastly, the memorandum argued that restricting access to evidence would have “significant negative impacts on the ability of the press and public to observe and report on how the video and photographic evidence is presented, how the jury reacts to it, and how the evidence might impact the jury’s verdict.”
The memorandum then made similar arguments regarding limitations imposed on the sketch artists, including that it would constitute a prior restraint against the press and could not survive strict scrutiny, meaning the restriction of speech would have to be “necessary to serve a compelling state interest” and be “narrowly drawn to achieve that end.” The memorandum further contended that limiting the sketch artist, and therefore the press’ ability to publish the sketches, was unconstitutional because it would violate Supreme Court precedent finding that the press has a First Amendment right to publish lawfully obtained, truthful information of public concern, citing several cases, including Smith v. Daily Mail Publishing Co., 443 U.S. 97, 102 (1979) and Florida Star v. B.J.F., 491 U.S. 524, 541 (1989). The full memorandum is available online at: http://mncourts.gov/mncourtsgov/media/High-Profile-Cases/27-CR-18-6859/MemoranduminSupportofMotion040219.pdf.
In a letter sent to Quaintance the following day, Walker noted that the AP and Hubbard Broadcasting had joined the existing Coalition. The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) also joined. (Silha Director Jane Kirtley serves on MNCOGI’s board.)
On April 5, Noor’s attorneys filed an objection to the court’s limitation on access to a public trial, as well as access to information in the trial, including the BWC footage. The defense cited a “history of unfairness to Mr. Noor from restricted access to information.” The objection is available online at: http://mncourts.gov/mncourtsgov/media/High-Profile-Cases/27-CR-18-6859/DefenseObjectiontoLimitation040519.pdf.
Also on April 5, 2019, the Star Tribune reported that during a pretrial hearing, Quaintance “remained skeptical” that the media and public should have access to the BWC footage and photographs. Quaintance instead argued that only the jurors should be allowed to see the BWC video, reasoning that the video showed officer behavior that would be key to the arguments for attorneys on both sides, and also showed Damond “taking her final breaths with her clothing partly torn off” to administer emergency life-saving techniques, according to the Star Tribune. Quaintance added, “I don’t know who would want to watch it unless it’s somebody who wants to watch snuff films.. . . It’s shocking. And frankly, the adamance of wanting access to it is shocking.. . . I’m not sure the public even has an interest in that video — a legitimate interest.” During the hearing, prosecutors acknowledged that they would use the BWC video as evidence in the trial, according to the AP.
Additionally, MPR News reported on April 5 that, during the hearing, Walker had cited at least one local newsroom filing public records requests for the BWC footage under the MGDPA. She argued that once the footage was admitted as evidence in the trial, it would become public data under the law, citing Minn. Stat. § 13.82, subd. 7, which states “[a]ny investigative data presented as evidence in court shall be public.” Quaintance responded that such requests seemed to be an “end run around [her] authority [in] this trial.”
Regarding limiting the ability of sketch artists to draw jurors, which were selected on April 8, Quaintance reasoned that the jurors were “extremely concerned about their anonymity,” according to the Star Tribune on April 5. However, Walker pushed back that “[w]ho they are matters.. . . The public cares very much about how this case comes out, and that’s why it matters.” In an April 5 email to Kirtley and Silha Bulletin editor Scott Memmel, Silha Research Assistant Sarah Wiley, who was in attendance during the hearing, noted that Quaintance also questioned whether the media was “truly a proxy for the public.”
However, in an April 9 tweet, MPR Reporter Cody Nelson reported that Quaintance had announced during a hearing that she would “make public all body cam footage shown at trial” and would also “allow sketch artists to draw jurors.” In a separate tweet, Nelson quoted Quaintance, who said, “It’s clear that I need to follow legal precedent.. . . [T]here is no role of victim privacy in the First Amendment.” She added, “The court, like the jury, must follow the law even if I disagree with it.”
FOX 9 reporter Paul Blume wrote in a tweet, “Judge issued ruling at #NoorTrial Every piece of evidence shown in court, will be shown to everyone. Judge had wanted to limit access to most sensitive evidence (body cam/autopsy pix). Judge says she disagrees with law & would rather protect victim dignity. But had no choice.”
The following day, Quaintance issued a written order in connection with her oral ruling. The order began by stating that in Quaintance’s “almost two decades as judge on this court, no criminal case has been the subject of greater pretrial publicity or received greater media interest,” citing 20 notices filed by media outlets seeking to record various pretrial hearings and the trial, as well as to have sketch artists present. Second, the order stated that given the level of media interest and coverage, the court aimed “to manage the pretrial and trial proceedings so as to secure fair trial before an impartial jury and to protect jurors from unwanted publicity (and possible harassment) that could compromise their impartiality.”
Finally, the order stated that despite concerns regarding privacy interests of Damond’s family and the possible influence on the jurors, the court “must follow legal precedent and allow publication to the gallery of any portions of the BWCs the Court receives into evidence during the trial despite its highly-sensitive nature.” The order added that “the law requires that the media courtroom sketch artist be allowed to depict jurors.” However, the order noted that it “reserves all substantive rulings on the admissibility of any such evidence to the trial.”
In a memorandum opinion attached to the order, Quaintance first provided the background of the case, including the “graphic and disturbing nature of the videos depicting Noor and Harrity and other responders trying to save [Damond’s] life.” The memorandum reiterated Quaintance’s concerns about disclosing the BWC footage showing “the last moments of human life and the struggles of police and medical personnel to save that life,” reasoning that “most lay people are not well equipped to take in such visceral and shocking material” and that “any attempts by the press to explain it to the public risk misrepresentation.” The order added that Quaintance felt Damond and her family “have privacy interests in these last moments of her life.”
The memorandum then turned to the relevant case law, which Quaintance argued did not “adequately consider [Damond’s] interests and privacy concerns in the context of the First and Sixth Amendment rights at stake in the criminal trials in which these issues typically arise.” Nevertheless, the memorandum concluded that the press and public “have a right to view the evidence presented during trial to the jury,” citing several Supreme Court cases, including Richmond Newspapers. The memorandum stated that the Coalition had “argue[d] persuasively that it is important that evidence presented to the jury be viewed by the press and public sitting in the courtroom at the time that evidence is being discussed by trial participants[.]”
Furthermore, the memorandum noted that previous attempts by courts to “place restrictions on the manner in which the press and public have complete contemporaneous access to evidence in criminal trials where the evidence may be . . . injurious to the privacy rights and interests of victims” generally have not survived constitutional scrutiny, citing Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior Court, 457 U.S. 596, 603, 606 (1982), among other cases.
Second, the memorandum conceded that the court did not meet the criteria of the four-part test articulated in Richmond Newspapers, including because “a cause of action for invasion of privacy does not generally survive an individual’s death.” The memorandum also acknowledged that other courts’ efforts to limit press and public access to graphic video footage based on privacy concerns were not sufficient, including in the case of James Holmes. The court found that the second, third, and fourth branches of the test also were not met because there were reasonable alternatives, such as instructing jurors not to watch local media reports; the blanket ban on public viewing of the BWC footage was not narrowly tailored; and such a ban would “negatively impact the press’ ability to observe and report on the video evidence being presented, how the jury reacts to it, and how the evidence might impact the jury’s verdict.”
Finally, the memorandum stated that the court would not prohibit the press sketch artist from sketching jurors, finding that such an order would constitute a prior restraint in violation of the First Amendment. The memorandum noted the three-part test articulated in Nebraska Press Association, which provides that a trial court, when deciding whether to enter an order restraining speech, must consider: “(1) the gravity of the harm posed by media coverage; (2) Whether other measures short of prior restraint would adequately have protected the defendant’s right to fair trial . . . and (3) how effectively restraining order would operate to prevent the threatened danger.” Quaintance concluded that her proposed order “[did] not pass muster under these criteria.”
The full order and memorandum are available online at: http://mncourts.gov/mncourtsgov/media/High-Profile-Cases/27-CR-18-6859/OrderandMemorandumOpinionReBWC andSketchArtist041019.pdf.
In a statement on April 9, Walker praised the ruling. “[T]he media coalition takes no joy in anything related to this trial,” she said. “But we’re gratified that it will remain open to the public so the press can accurately and thoroughly report on the proceedings, and the public can judge for itself the ultimate verdict and how the judicial system works.”
Star Tribune managing editor Suki Dardarian also praised the ruling in an April 9 story, calling it an “unexpected victory for the First Amendment” given Quaintance’s earlier skepticism of the media coalition’s arguments. “I appreciate that the court recognized the public and media’s First Amendment rights of access in a criminal trial, particularly one of such critical importance to the residents of this city and this state. It’s difficult for a trial to be fair if it’s not open to the public,” Dardarian said. “This also showed that the media in Minnesota take seriously their rights as journalists. However I am disappointed that a right so clearly articulated in the law required our legal intervention.”
In an interview with the Star Tribune on April 9, MPR executive director of news and programming Nancy Cassutt said she was “pleased with the decision.” She added, “The judge will have to trust the media to do its job. I’m confident the MPR newsroom will do the right thing for our audiences.”
Walker noted that Quaintance had not formally ruled on whether other graphic evidence would be admissible in court, according to MPR News on April 9. Nevertheless, Walker noted that the ruling meant that if the jury saw the photographs or video, so would the public. As the Bulletin went to press, Quaintance had not announced any further rulings regarding evidence in the trial.
In the late afternoon of April 9, Quaintance also issued a Standing Order on Requests for Trial Exhibits During Trial, in which she ruled that evidentiary exhibits during the trial would not be released “until after the trial” in order to “ensure fair trial and the fair administration of justice” and the “integrity of the exhibits.” The order continued, “[T]he Court has determined that no exhibits entered into evidence in this case will be released until after the conclusion of the trial.”
An attached document regarding “Bench Procedure/Policy” titled “Public Requests for Viewing and Obtaining Copies of Court Filed Exhibits,” which was issued by the Fourth Judicial District on March 1, 2018, outlined several guidelines that “should be followed upon receipt of request to view or obtain copies of exhibits filed in the Criminal Division.” One such guideline was that exhibits should be “made available for viewing within reasonable timeframe after they have been deposited with court administration at the conclusion of a trial.”
The full order and attached document are available online at: http://mncourts.gov/mncourtsgov/media/High-Profile-Cases/27-CR-18-6859/OrderonRequestsforTrialExhibits040919.pdf. As the Bulletin went to press, the Coalition had not responded to the order.
Following the filing of the order, several reporters at the trial indicated that defense attorney Thomas Plunkett was considering a motion to have the audio removed from some of the BWC video. The following day, the defense filed a motion in limine, meaning a motion discussed outside the presence of the jury regarding the exclusion of certain testimony or evidence, in which the defense moved for the court to “preclude the State from introducing evidence of body worn camera video related to the lifesaving efforts performed on [Damond] and of law enforcement who arrived on the scene during the course of the investigation.” The defense reasoned that the “extensive efforts of [Harrity and Noor] to resuscitate [Damond], and the first responders continued lifesaving efforts, [was] not relevant to whether Officer Noor committed the offenses charged and serve no evidentiary purpose in establishing any element of the offenses.”
The motion added that the video of the lifesaving efforts instead was “prejudicial and risk[ed] inflaming the passion of the jury.” Finally, the motion called for the withholding of BWC footage of “law enforcement who arrived on the scene during the course of the investigation absent some offer of proof as to relevance,” reasoning that much of the video and audio contained “hearsay that is prejudicial.” The full motion is available online at: http://mncourts.gov/mncourtsgov/media/High-Profile-Cases/27-CR-18-6859/DefendantsFifthMotioninLimine041019.pdf.
KARE-TV reporter Lou Raguse tweeted that prosecutors argued in court that the motion should be dismissed, reasoning that the defense had “had these videos for a full year and did not say anything.” He added that Quaintance “was irritated with the timing.”
On April 11, several media outlets reported that BWC footage from two responding officers was shown to the jury on the same day, including their efforts to save Damond’s life. A full discussion of what was depicted in the footage is available online at: https://www.kare11.com/article/news/local/noor-trial-jury-sees-body-camera-video-of-ruszczyk-shooting/89-8a86bbe6-d884-4b6a-a0a9-33c7e977fe6c.
On April 30, multiple reporters present in the courtroom reported that Noor was found guilty on the third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges, and faced a minimum of three years in prison and a maximum of 25 years. The jury acquitted Noor on the second-degree murder charge. MPR News wrote in an April 30 tweet that it was “believed to be the first time a police officer in Minnesota was found guilty of murder from shooting someone while on duty.” Sentencing was set for June 7, 2019.
MPR News reported on May 10 that several media outlets had requested access to interviews, photos, and BWC video shown during the trial. However, prosecutors filed a motion to block the release of such evidence, contending that sentencing had not taken place and the BWC video could be “misused” by the press and public.
On May 13, 2019, Quaintance issued a written order requiring the Hennepin County District Court Public Affairs Communications Specialist and the court’s criminal administrative staff to “allow media representatives access to and the opportunity to view the trial exhibits in this case.” However, Quaintance did not rule on the prosecutors’ request to prohibit “third-party copying of the exhibits” and indicated she would do so in a later ruling. The order provided that “[i]f a member of the media or the public who has requested copy access to the exhibits in this case wishes to respond to the State’s objection,” the party would be able to intervene by May 16, 2019, “after which the Court will take the matter under advisement and issue an order as promptly as possible.” The full order is available online at: http://mncourts.gov/mncourtsgov/media/High-Profile-Cases/27-CR-18-6859/1stOrderReCopy AccesstoExhibits051319.pdf
As the Bulletin went to press, Quaintance had not ruled on the issue of third-party copying of the trial evidence.
Silha Bulletin Editor