Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Noor Zahi Salman Evidence Suppression Hearing.

Noor Salman walked into the Federal Courtroom with shackles around her ankles.  She wore a suit and had her hair clipped back in a pony tail.  The two guards escorting her were in black suits.  When she was seated, they stooped below her table and removed the shackles. Noor was the wife of Omar Mateen who killed 49 people and injured 68 others in the Pulse Nightclub massacre.  Salman is charged with aiding and abetting her husband, and obstruction for allegedly misleading investigators in Fort Pierce. She has pleaded not guilty to these charges. This hearing on December 21st was being held so her lawyers could attempt to suppress evidence obtained by the FBI that would incriminate her.  The judge on the bench was Paul G. Byron.

The first witness was Andrew Brennen who, at the time of the shooting, was working as an extra security guard at Native Nightclub in Downtown Orlando.  He is now a retired Master Sargent with the Orlando Police Department who had been in charge of digital forensics and crisis/hostage negotiations.  When he heard of the shooting, he immediately shut down Native Nightclub because a mass murderer could potentially target other clubs on a shooting spree.  He immediately drove down to Pulse to help.  He was moved to the communications center.  Within minutes, a dispatcher received a call from someone claiming to be the shooter.  Exhibits 1A and 1B were presented which were audio and transcripts of Mateen's call.  Brennan then attempted both successful and unsuccessful contact with Omar 77 times.  At 2:49 AM Omar told Brennan to tell America to stop bombing Syria and Iraq and that they were killing innocent women and children.  Brennan then asked if Omar had done anything yet, in an attempt to verify that he was indeed the gunman. Brennan acquired Omar's name and started using it, saying that using a name can build rapport and more meaningful dialogue.  In another call Omar claimed there was a bomb in a vehicle with enough explosives to take out an entire city block.

The second witness was Lieutenant William Hall from the Fort Pierce Police Department.  At 3:13 AM he received a call from the Orlando Police Department asking him to check 2513 South 17th street, Apartment 107 in Fort Pierce and to be wary of possible explosives and booby traps.  They formulated a plan and one hour later called the residence.  A female answered.  Officers wearing bullet proof vests approached the apartment from a guarded position at the end of a hall with guns drawn.  Noor Salman was requested to exit the apartment and she did, wearing pajamas. When she exited, Hall lowered his AR50 riffle and handed it off to another officer.   She was asked if anyone else was inside and she answered that just her 3 year old son was.  Police entered the residence and, after a visual check, found no explosives.  Hall wanted to evacuate her from the apartment and she asked if she could change.  He allowed her to change in her bedroom, unaccompanied by police.  When she came back out, Hall was surprised when she pulled out a cell phone which could potentially be used to detonate a bomb. In cross examination he changed his story saying the phone had been on the table and Noor asked if she could bring it along.  Noor was not touched or cuffed.  She was escorted to his unmarked Crown Victoria police car and he had her sit in the backseat with the AC running and the car door open.  Her son went to sleep in the back seat next to her.  Out of the blue, Salman said that her husband was very careful with guns and that he would never hurt anybody. No officer had mentioned guns or bodily harm by her husband.  The main point of contention during this time is if Noor felt she was was under arrest.  She was not cuffed and had not been read her Miranda rights.

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 The third witness was Mustafa Abasin, the brother in law of the shooter.  FBI had visited him on the Morning of June 12.  Salman's son Zachariah needed to be picked up and Abasin has 2 sons, so it made sense for him to pick up her son since he already had a child car seat.  Mustafa was asked many questions about how he felt Noor was treated when he picked up her son.  He didn't recall any aggression, officers didn't block her from his view and they weren't mean in any way when he was there.  That night Salman came to his home to pick up her son.  She was crying and claimed that the FBI threatened to hold her son if she didn't tell them what was happening.

The fourth witness was Paul Ostillo who has been an Orlando Resident Agency FBI agent and bomb technician for ten years.  He also worked in counter terrorism.  At 3:40 AM he received a call from the Orange County Sheriff's Bomb Squad and was authorized to assist.  He arrived at Pulse at 4:40 AM and saw squad cars, victims, survivors, and first responders everywhere.  He made his way to the command post south of Pulse.  Exhibit 26 was a diagram of the Pulse Nightclub.  Ostello pointed out where the gunman was barricaded and where the gunman's car was in relation to the club.  He went to his vehicle to retrieve his tactical gear.  He heard an explosion which he later learned was an attempt to breach the club wall.  Explosive breaching is when SWAT uses controlled explosives to enter a structure, in this case the West wall of the club between bathrooms.  The explosion created a small portal and victims were quickly being extricated and being patted down for weapons or possible bobby traps.  People were assessed for injuries for about 10 minutes before gun shots were heard from inside the club.  SWAT threw in flash points and then shot Mateen.

Mateen's vehicle was inspected for bombs.  All that was found was ammunition. A van that size could have held 1,000 pounds of explosives which would have devastated the entire club and surrounding area.  When they saw Omar's downed body, they saw what appeared to be wires beneath his pant legs.  They could be part of an IED (Improvised Explosive Device.) All living victims had to be removed from the club before a robot could remotely inspect the body. Three robots were used to inspect the club and the car before officers could approach.  Mateen had fallen down onto an exit sign, the wires were not part of a bomb.   The robots manipulated the gunman's body.  Images of his body were flashed on the courtroom computer screens.  Noor Salman never glanced at the screen choosing instead to write on her yellow legal pad.  The purpose of the video and photos was to show the extremity of the situation and to show that the actions of the Fort Pierce police were justified.

The judge insisted that any evidence showing victims would have to be redacted before it could be submitted as evidence. No evidence was suppressed during this morning session. Judge Byron called for a lunch break. 

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