In the days before he shot and killed a woman who had called 911 for help, Officer Mohamad Noor of the Minneapolis Police Department received a summons by mail.
“YOU ARE BEING SUED,” it announced. “Do not throw these papers away. They are official papers that affect your rights.”
The document further informed Noor that he and two fellow cops were the subject of a personal injury suit filed by another woman who had called 911 seeking help in late May. Noor was referred to as one of “the Defendants.”
That must have been jarring after the near celebrity treatment Noor received last year, when he became the first Somali to serve in the 5th Precinct, one of just a handful in the whole department.
“I want to take a moment to recognize Officer Mohamed Noor, the newest Somali officer in the Minneapolis Police Department,” Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges had written in a May 24, 2016, Facebook post. “Officer Noor has been assigned to the 5th Precinct, where his arrival has been highly celebrated, particularly by the Somali community.”
Hodges added, “The community even hosted a meet and greet event (see pics) to welcome him. A wonderful sign of building trust and community policing at work.”
The accompanying photos showed a beaming rookie Noor standing in a kind of receiving line with a police supervisor, meeting and greeting citizen well-wishers.
One year and a day later, at 9:56 a.m. on May 25, 2017, a retired Minneapolis clinical social worker named Teresa Graham called 911 to say a young man who appeared to be under the influence of drugs was sitting on a retaining wall behind her house, smoking marijuana.
“Plaintiff did not receive a visit or further communication from police, and therefore assumed they did not do anything in response to her call,” the complaint accompanying the subsequent suit says.
At 3:19 p.m., Graham called a city help center and was transferred to the 5th Precinct. She left a message on the voicemail of Inspector Kathy Waite.
At 6:17 p.m., Lt. Dan May telephoned Graham to say the police had in fact driven past her house that morning after the 911 call.
In the meantime, Graham had emailed various Minneapolis officials, ranging from Mayor Hodges to Inspector Waite, complaining that the authorities had also failed to act on a “vulnerable adult” report she had made in connection with the illness and death of her sister in November 2016.
Relatives had spoken to the police and had apparently offered an assessment of Graham.
“According to police reports, one or more relatives of Plaintiff reported to police that Plaintiff has some sort of mental health issues,” the complaint says.
Around 8 p.m., Noor and co-defendant Officer Amanda Sanchez arrived at the house to conduct “a wellness check.” The cops knocked on the door. Graham answered.
“Defendant Sanchez stated that a cousin had called and accused plaintiff of making threats to him and his family,” the complaint says. “Sanchez subsequently turned on her body camera and then told Plaintiff that they came to find out if she was okay and told Plaintiff that a family member had called and stated there was a problem.”
The complaint continues: “Plaintiff demanded to know who called. Defendant officers refused to answer her question. Sanchez told plaintiff the relative had stated Plaintiff was harassing or making threats to family members. Defendant officer Noor eventually stated that the issue was over and apologized. The officers then left Plaintiff’s property.”
At 8:21 p.m., Graham again called 911, this time to complain about the police visit to her home. The complaint says, “Plaintiff indicated that she believed the police visit to be harassment, retaliatory for her prior complaint that morning and ‘bizarre.’”
Graham demanded to speak with a precinct supervisor and left a voicemail message. She ended up speaking with Sgt. Shannon Barnette, saying she was being harassed by Noor and Sanchez.
In the meantime, Graham also called 911 to report she was worried about her brother, saying he was, like their sister, a “vulnerable adult.” The brother lives in Edina, and the Minneapolis dispatcher transferred her call to the police there.
At 11:34 p.m., Noor and Sanchez reappeared at Graham’s front door, now joined by Barnette, who is said to have decided to transport Graham to the hospital and put her on “an emergency mental health hold.” They knocked and Graham answered.
As described in the complaint, Barnette told her they had spoken on the phone and Graham had asked for help. Graham denied asking for assistance.
“Plaintiff demanded that the police officers leave her property immediately,” the complaint says. “Defendant officers refused.”
The officers knocked repeatedly on Graham’s door. She did not answer. The cops kept knocking, promising to leave as soon as they determined she was OK.
Graham opened the door and ordered the cops to leave. They instead pushed their way in.
“Defendant Sgt. Barnette immediately grabbed Plaintiff’s left wrist and upper arm,” the complaint says. “Defendant Officer Noor grabbed Plaintiff’s phone from her hand and the grabbed her right wrist and upper arm, thereby immobilizing her.”
Barnett informed Graham that they were taking her to the hospital because she was in “a mental health crisis.”
“Defendant Sgt. Barnette states as a reason that Plaintiff called 911 ‘a million times’ and called Edina PD,” the complaint says.
The complaint goes on: “Plaintiff insisted she did not need to the hospital. Plaintiff repeatedly told the defendants to let go of her wrists and arms, that they were hurting and injuring her…Defendant Noor lessened the tightness of his grip on Plaintiff’s right arm, but Barnette responded by tightening her grip.”
An ambulance transported Graham to Southdale Medical Center, where the cops filled out an Application by Peace or Health Officer for Emergency Admission. They wrote that Graham had “continuously called 911” and was “not making sense”’ and was “agitated and making non-sensical statements.”
The complaint notes that the statements in question were recorded by the cops’ body cameras. Noor seems to have belatedly joined the other two in turning his on.
“Plaintiff’s statements to Defendant officers, which were recorded on the officers’ body cameras, could not be interpreted by a reasonable person as nonsensical,” the complaint says.
But at that point, the hospital had only the opinion of the officers to go on. Graham was held at the hospital against her will for some 90 minutes.
“Hospital staff ordered Plaintiff to remove all her clothes and give up all her property,” the complaint says, adding that this was in keeping with “the hospital’s practice towards persons admitted pursuant to emergency holds who are believed to present a danger to themselves or others.”
A physician performed a psychiatric evaluation of Graham and, the complaint says, “determined she was not ‘hold-able’ and ordered that she be discharged.”
Graham subsequently filed suit in federal court, alleging the officers had violated her constitutional rights and subjected her to “false imprisonment, assault, battery and negligence.”
Her attorney, Jordan Kushner, mailed the resulting summonses to the 5th Precinct. Noor went from being celebrated as the first Somali officer in the command to becoming just another cop to be hit with a lawsuit after what should have been a routine call turned into a tangled mess.
The cops insisted they had only acted as the law and duty required. That would make body cameras their very best friends in a case not at all like TV and the movies but all too typical of police work as it is actually lived.
Something Noor’s supervisors should have noted was that he was apparently the last of the three cops to turn on his body camera, even though they are supposed to turn them on at the start of a call.
As compiled by the local KSTP News, the cops at the 5th Precinct in March 2017 worked 10,112 hours “in 911 capacity,” but recorded only 513 hours of body camera footage. The other four precincts were even worse. Only the City Hall command was better.
Noor and his current partner, Officer Matthew Harrity, seem not to have turned their body cameras on at all when they responded to a report of a possible sexual assault in progress at 11:30 p.m. Saturday.
“Female screaming behind the building,” the dispatcher reported.
The report had been made to 911 by 40-year-old Justine Damond, who told the operator it sounded like somebody was being attacked in the alley behind her house. Noor was in the front passenger seat and Harrity was at the wheel when the cops arrived on the scene.
The cops thought to turn off all the squad car lights so as to catch a perpetrator in the act but failed to turn on their body cameras despite the lesson offered to Noor by the earlier incident involving a woman calling 911 for help.
Harrity would tell investigators of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) that they were just pulling up when there came a loud, startling sound outside the car.
In the next moment, Damond approached the driver’s side in her pajamas. Noor fired a single shot from the passenger seat that passed in front of Harrity and through the open driver’s side window, striking Damond.
Damond collapsed, her cellphone beside her.
“Shots fired,” one of the cops radioed. “We got one down.”
The two cops climbed out and crouched over Damond, administering mouth-to-mouth and pumping her chest.
“CPR,” a cop radioed.
The paramedics arrived soon after and did what they could before pronouncing Damond dead at the scene. The medical examiner would determine that Damond died from a gunshot wound to the abdomen. She comes from Australia and was to have married her longtime fiancé next month, and now she had been shot to death by a police officer after calling the police for help.
In the aftermath, BCA investigators reported that the patrol car’s dashcam footage provided no visual clues about the shooting, though it was not clear whether the audio was of any value.
Noor’s lawyer, Thomas Plunkett, released a statement.
“Officer Noor extends his condolences to the family and anyone else who has been touched by this event,” it began. “He takes their loss seriously and keeps them in his daily thoughts and prayers.”
The statement continued: “He came to the United States at a young age and is thankful to have had so many opportunities. He takes these events very seriously because, for him, being a police officer is a calling. He joined the police force to serve the community and to protect the people he serves. Officer Noor is a caring person with a family he loves and he empathizes with the loss others are experiencing.”
It went on: “The current environment for police is difficult, but Officer Noor accepts this as part of his calling. We would like to say more, and will in the future. At this time, however, there are several investigations ongoing and Officer Noor wants to respect the privacy to the family and asks the same in return during this difficult period.”
But in truth only self-interest was preventing Noor from granting Damond’s fiancé and loved ones the mercy of knowing exactly what happened.
Of course, much of the mystery would have been solved immediately if Noor had simply hit the record button on his body camera while responding to that call of a female screaming on Saturday night.
On Tuesday night, Mayor Hodges, who had fought for police body cameras, spoke of the same cop whose arrival she had celebrated a year ago.
“We cannot compel Officer Noor to make a statement,” Hodges said. “I wish we could.”
She reconsidered her wording.
“I wish that he would make a statement,” she said. “He has a story to tell no one else can tell.”