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Ex-Minneapolis cop to go on trial April 1 in woman’s death

The Associated Press
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In this Aug. 11, 2017, file photo, Don Damond hugs supporters and loved ones prior to a memorial service for his fiancé Justine Damond, seen in photo at left, at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. Damond was killed by Minneapolis police officer, Mohamed Noor on July 15, 2017 after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault near her home. Prosecutors and defense attorneys head to court Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, for a pretrial hearing for the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder and manslaughter in the fatal shooting.
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In this July 17, 2017, file photo, Megan O’Leary, of St. Paul, leaves a message on the sidewalk near the scene in Minneapolis where Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor shot and killed Justine Ruszczyk Damond, of Australia, after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault near her home. Prosecutors and defense attorneys head to court Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, for a pretrial hearing for Noor, the former officer charged with murder and manslaughter for the fatal shooting.
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Mohamed Noor, center, accompanied by his legal team, Peter Wold, left, and Tom Plunkett, arrive to argue pretrial motions at a probable cause hearing for the ex-Minneapolis police officer Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, at the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis.
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Mohamed Noor, center, accompanied by his legal team, Peter Wold, left, and Tom Plunkett, arrive to argue pretrial motions at a probable cause hearing for the ex-Minneapolis police officer Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, at the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis.
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In this Aug. 11, 2017, file photo, Johanna Morrow plays the didgeridoo during a memorial service for Justine Ruszczyk Damond at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor was charged in the July 2017 shooting death of Damond, who had called 911 to report a possible assault. Prosecutors and defense attorneys head to court Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, for a pretrial hearing for Noor, the former police officer charged with murder and manslaughter for the fatal shooting.
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Mohamed Noor, center, accompanied by his legal team, Peter Wold and Tom Plunkett, arrive to argue pretrial motions at a probable cause hearing for the ex-Minneapolis police officer Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, at the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis.

MINNEAPOLIS — Prosecutors can use a former Minneapolis police officer’s psychological records against him when he goes on trial next year for fatally shooting an unarmed Australian woman who had called 911, a judge ruled Thursday.

Hennepin County District Judge Kathryn Quaintance set a trial date of April 1 after finding that there is probable cause for the criminal case to proceed against Mohamed Noor. He was charged in March with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond

Damond, a 40-year-old life coach and dual citizen who was engaged to be married, called 911 the night of July 15, 2017, to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home. Noor was in the passenger seat of a squad car when he reached across his partner and fired at Damond through the driver’s window after she walked up to them in the darkness.

Noor has declined to speak with investigators. But his partner, Matthew Harrity, told them they “got spooked” when she approached. Harrity said he heard a voice and a thump on the back of the squad, and glimpsed a head and shoulders outside. Harrity said he feared for his life and drew his gun. Noor, however, fired at Damond, who died at the scene.

Noor’s attorneys argue he acted reasonably because he feared he was in danger. But Quaintance ruled during the brief hearing that a jury could conclude from the evidence that Noor’s actions that night met the legal tests for both charges.

The judge also refused to suppress Noor’s psychological records , which the Minneapolis Police Department collected during his hiring process. She ruled that they’re not subject to the physician-patient privilege of confidentiality.

According to court filings, the records show that training officers expressed concerns about Noor’s fitness for duty long before the shooting. The trainers said he had problems handling job stress and engaging with people. And a psychological evaluation found he was more likely than other officer candidates to become impatient with others over minor infractions and have trouble getting along with others. Nevertheless, he was deemed fit to work as a cadet officer.

Noor’s attorneys countered that prosecutors painted a distorted picture of the records. They said in their filings that training officers never found Noor to be “unacceptable” at a task, and that a psychological test he took was racially biased. Noor is Somali-American. They said his results were likely a result of his race and culture, not a personality disorder.

Quaintance also rejected a defense motion to dismiss the counts over comments by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman that the defense said jeopardized Noor’s right to a fair trial, though she advised both sides to be circumspect.

“We are committed to a fair and just process,” Quaintance said. “The issues will be tried in a court of law and not the media.”

Noor declined to comment to reporters afterward. While he was never asked to formally enter a plea, that became moot when the judge set the trial date. He remains free on $400,000 bail.

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