MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - Matthew Harrity, the partner of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, who is charged in the 2017 shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, testified in court for nearly five hours Thursday, telling prosecutors he thought the use of deadly force was “premature” from his vantage point in the squad car.
Harrity was in the driver’s seat of the squad car when Noor reached across him and shot and killed Damond on July 15, 2017. The Australian native had called police earlier that evening to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her house in southwest Minneapolis.
Harrity answered questions from prosecutors Thursday morning. He said he remembers hearing a dog barking and whining mid-alley right near Damond’s home on the 5000 block of Washburn Avenue as he rolled slowly down the alley between 50th and 51st streets with his squad lights off, manually operating the exterior spotlight looking for the source of Damond’s 911 call of a “female screaming behind a building.”
As he "went dark" down the alley, Harrity said he took the safety hood off his three-level holster, which requires three steps to get the gun fully out. Harrity thought the 911 call warranted being "ready for anything."
Harrity said the 911 call was "vague." He grew up in south Minneapolis and thought a “person screaming" could just be kids late on a summer night or it could be someone being assaulted. Again, he said he wanted to be ready for anything.
Harrity was asked why, if he feared possible trouble in that alley, he did not switch on his body camera. He said nothing in the Minneapolis Police Department policy required it and he was worried about wasting the second or two it took to fiddle with it when he wanted his full attention on the call.
Earlier this week, current Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who was in command the night of the shooting and was the scene in the immediate aftermath, testified that, per the department’s 2017 body camera policies, the officers’ body cameras should have been turned on for any potential criminal activity call, anything that could become adversarial or required pulling a gun.
After the midday break, jurors watched Harrity’s body camera video, which shows Damond taking her final breaths. Some of her family members left the courtroom before it was shown.
In the video, Harrity was very calm in the moment, encouraging Damond to keep breathing and keep fighting. He also tried calming Noor, who helped with chest compressions, reminding him to slow down and breathe himself.
Harrity testified that he absolutely remembers a thump on the back of the driver side of the squad car as a figure he could not make out approached the vehicle. He recalled hearing a murmur at about the same point, possibly a human voice. He was reaching for his gun when he heard a pop and saw a flash.
Harrity recalled yelling out, “Oh shit," or "Oh Jesus," in the moment before the gunshot. He said there was a thump, a weird feeling, a glimpse of something to his side, but he was not sure if person or what. He reached for his gun, then Noor fired.
It happened so fast, he said.
Harrity said he did not know where the gunshot had come from. He checked all his extremities, not knowing if he had been hit. Once he had gathered his thoughts, he got out of the squad car and guided Damond to the ground.
Harrity testified that Damond said, "I'm dead...I'm dying," and then took a couple of steps away from the squad. He reported she might have been about 2 feet away and then ended up 4-5 feet away when helped to ground.
Harrity was pressed about why he feared for his life in that moment and why he reached for his gun. He said he wanted to go home to his family and that his safety matters above all else, even more than the 911 caller or anyone else potentially approaching their squad.
Prosecutors went after Harrity for the police work leading up to shooting, including the quick two-minute run down the alley, a momentary closer inspection from the squad of a whining dog and then assumption they made that the approaching figure was threat and not someone in need of help.
One of the last things Harrity said during his nearly five hours of testimony, Harrity was, “The use of deadly force was premature from what I had,” meaning his vantage point in the driver’s seat of the squad car.
He admitted he was scared for his life, but did not shoot because he had not fully assessed the threat of who was approaching the vehicle.
Harrity broke down on stand while talking about the days after the shooting. He described blankly staring at his TV turned off, hearing gunshots in his head and his wife talking to him for five minutes before coming to.
One of Noor’s defense attorneys, Tom Plunkett, appeared to be consoling Noor as Harrity was talking.
Noor is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in connection with Damond's death.