Back in 2017, Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor gunned down Justine Ruszczyk Damond, who had called 911 to report a possible rape. In 2019, Noor was convicted of third-degree murder and sentenced to 12-and-a-half years in prison. On October 21, Judge Kathryn Quaintance resentenced Noor to just 57 months. These events invite a review of the case.
The 40-year-old Damond, a dual citizen of Australia and the United States, heard a woman being assaulted and called 911. Officer Noor and partner Matthew Harrity failed to telephone Damond, who called 911 a second time to check on their arrival.
When Damond approached the police car, Noor suddenly drew his weapon and fired. The bullet struck an abdominal artery and the victim, who was to be married within a month, lost so much blood that prompt medical attention might not have saved her.
The Somali-born Noor, who had been on the force for two years, claimed he fired to protect the life of his partner. Three days after the shooting, Harrity claimed he heard a loud bang on the squad car. None of the forensic evidence showed that the victim had even touched the car.
“The use of force was objectionable, unreasonable and violated police policies and training,” expert witness Derrick Hacker testified during the trial in April 2019. “No reasonable officer would have perceived a threat by somebody coming up to their squad.” Expert witness Timothy Longo told the court that a string of bad decisions led to the shooting death. “I don’t believe they were logical or rational at all,” Longo explained. “This was an unprovoked, violent response.”
Noor’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, told the court that what “really caused” the shooting was “the fear that continues to permeate our society. The police are afraid of the people, the people are afraid of the police.” The Minneapolis jury didn’t buy it.
Six of the 12 jurors, including two women, were people of color. They took less than 12 hours to find Noor guilty of third-degree murder. Damond’s family was satisfied with the verdict, and the city of Minneapolis agreed to a $20 million settlement with the victim’s family.
Noor’s cousin Goth Ali told reporters the sentence was “an injustice” and charged that Noor “didn’t get a fair trial.” The Somali-American Police Association (SAPA) said in a statement, “The institutional prejudices against people of color, including officers of color, have heavily influenced the verdict of this case.” In this case, the “officer of color” was the shooter, and the victim a person of pallor.
As it turned out, Noor’s prison term was the average sentence for a cop convicted of a murder committed on duty. In Colorado, James Ashby received a 16-year sentence for killing Jack Jacquez after a confrontation in 2014. Roy Oliver, the Texas officer who shot Jordan Edwards, 15, was sentenced to 15 years.
On February 1, 2021 a Minnesota appeals court upheld Mohamed Noor’s murder conviction. On September 15, the Minnesota Supreme Court tossed Noor’s murder conviction, arguing that, since the officer directed his actions at a specific person, third-degree murder didn’t fit the case.
Noor’s 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 months but Judge Kathryn 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 the high end of the guidelines.” Puzzled observers might contrast another Minnesota case.
The African American George Floyd was a criminal suspect with a lengthy record. White Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Flyod’s neck but did not discharge a firearm against a 911 caller.
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 even a bad cop demonstrating toxic masculinity.
In June, Chauvin was sentenced to 22-and-a half 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’s. By contrast, with his sentence reduced and credit for time served, Mohamed Noor could be released by mid-2022.
“The killer Noor may be getting out earlier 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.”
Mohamed Noor has been hailed as an example of “diversity,” so he could possibly get his job back. In Minneapolis, people might think twice before calling 911.