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Ex-Minnesota policeman says he shot Australian woman to protect partner


By Joey Peters

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - An ex-Minnesota policeman on trial for murder said on Thursday that he opened fire on an Australian woman who approached his car to protect his partner who was struggling to get his gun.

Mohamed Noor, 33, is charged in the murder of 40-year-old Justine Ruszczyk Damond, whom he shot through his patrol car window during the night of July 15, 2017 in a dark alley while responding to her 911 call to report a possible sexual assault near her Minneapolis home.

Noor testified in a Minneapolis courtroom that he shot Damond after he and his partner Matthew Harrity, who was in the driver's seat, heard a loud noise. Harrity had trouble removing his gun from its holster and "he turned to me with fear in his eyes," Noor said during his five-hour testimony.

At that moment Noor spotted a blonde-haired woman with a pink shirt near the driver's side window raise her arm, he said. Noor put his left arm across Harrity's chest to protect him from his own weapon before he extended his gun past the steering wheel and fired one shot, he added.

"My intent was to stop the threat and save my partner's life," he said, noting that it was a "split-second decision" based on his officer training.

Noor's defense attorneys called him to testify as their first witness after the prosecution rested their case on Thursday.

Noor pleaded not guilty to charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, which carry respective penalties of up to 25 and 10 years in prison.

Damond's family filed a civil lawsuit against the city and several police officers last month seeking $50 million in damages.

During the trial that began two weeks ago, Noor's attorneys have tried to show the Hennepin County District Court jury that Noor followed his training and had good reason to be on guard when he responded to Damond's 911 call that night.

He described his 29 weeks of cadet academy training in 2015, telling the court about the counter-ambush training he went through during officer survival week in the academy.

"The most important take for me is action is better than reaction," Noor said. "If you don't act, it's too late."

Noor said Harrity exited the car and started performing CPR. Noor realized then that the woman was not a threat.

"If I knew this would happen, I never would have become a cop," he said while he wept.

(Writing by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Richard Chang)

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