On Thursday, Hennepin County Judge Kathryn Quaintance resentenced former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor to 57 months in prison for the July 15, 2017 shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, who had called 911 to report a rape.
Noor, a Muslim born in Somalia, was found guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the case and sentenced to 12 1/2 years in prison. On Feb. 1, 2021 a Minnesota Appeals Court upheld Noor’s murder conviction. On September 15, the Minnesota Supreme Court tossed Noor’s murder conviction, arguing that, since Noor directed his actions at a specific person, third-degree murder didn’t fit the case. The new sentence of 57 months invites a review of the case.
After the 911 call, Noor and partner Matthew Harrity were checking out an alley behind the Damond residence when they heard a loud bang on the car. Noor said he saw a blond woman in a pink shirt raise her arm at Harrity’s window, and claimed he fired to protect his partner’s life.
According to testimony from the medical examiner, Noor’s bullet struck an abdominal artery and the 40-year-old Australian-American, who was to be married within a month, lost so much blood that prompt medical attention might not have saved her. It also emerged in testimony that officer Harrity first mentioned the bang on the car three days after his partner Noor shot Damond. Neither officer mentioned it at the scene, and Mohamed Noor refused to speak with state investigators.
As prosecutors noted, no forensic evidence proved that Damond even touched the squad car, as the shooter Mohamed Noor claimed. The officer, 33, had been celebrated as an example of diversity. Noor lost his job after charges were filed, but the local police association supported him.
Six of the 12 jurors, including the two women, were people of color. They took less then 12 hours to find Noor guilty. Damond’s family was satisfied with the verdict, and the city of Minneapolis agreed to a $20 million settlement with Damond’s family. On the other hand, Noor’s cousin Goth Ali, told reporters “What happened was injustice. This is shocking. My cousin didn’t get a fair trial.” The Somali-American Police Association (SAPA) felt likewise.
Officer Noor was “the first police officer in Minnesota’s history to be convicted of murder while in the line of duty,” the SAPA said in a statement. “The institutional prejudices against people of color, including officers of color, have heavily influenced the verdict of this case. The aggressive manner in which the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office went after Officer Noor reveals that there were other motives at play other than serving justice.”
The killing of Damond was possibly the first case of a Minnesota officer shooting an innocent, unarmed 911 caller, rather than the criminal suspect the victim was calling about. After Noor shot Justine Damond, police did not track down the rape suspect who touched off her call. The case also bears contrasts with the death of George Floyd in 2020.
Floyd was not a 911 caller but a criminal suspect with a lengthy record. White Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin held the African American Floyd in a choke hold but did not discharge a firearm. Unlike Mohamed Noor’s shooting of Damond, Chavin’s actions against Floyd were not captured on video.
The Floyd case drew nationwide protests but a black police officer gunning down an unarmed white woman innocent of any crime touched off little protest. Few if any reports considered the possibility that Noor might be a racist or an example of police violence.
Last June, Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison. Since the officer also drew charges of second-degree murder, there is little chance his conviction will be tossed in the style of Mohammed Noor. His lawyers argued that he had been a “model prisoner” but according to news reports he spent time in solitary confinement at a prison in North Dakota. The lawyers argued for the minimum sentence of 41 sentence but judge Quaintance gave him the maximum.
“You did shoot across the nose of your partner,” Quaintance told Noor. “You did endanger a bicyclist and residents of a community of surrounding houses on a summer Saturday evening. One household was entertaining guests on a porch adjacent to the gunfire. These factors of endangering the public make your crime of manslaughter appropriate for high end of the guidelines.”
If the judge said anything about victim Justine Ruszczyk Damond, it did not emerge in news reports. The reduced sentence means Mohamed Noor could be released by mid-2022.
“The killer Noor may be getting out early than we’d hoped, but he is still a murderer in my mind,” said the victim’s sister Katerina Ruszczyk in a statement read in court. “This is a legal loophole, not one of moral triumph.”
In “woke” Minneapolis, Mohamed Noor stands a good chance of getting his job back. People might think twice before calling 911.