Former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor was convicted Tuesday in the shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, who called authorities for help after a possible assault outside her home.
A jury found the officer guilty of third-degree murder and manslaughter charges in the July 2017 incident, during which Noor opened fire on the Australian native when she suddenly approached his squad car minutes after dialing 911.
Noor, a Somali-American, was responding to a report of a possible rape in an alley behind Damond’s Minneapolis home when the fatal shooting occurred. Now, he is believed to be the first Minnesota police officer to be found guilty of an on-duty killing — a notably rare occurrence, as officers are scarcely charged, let alone convicted, in deadly shootings.
Noor escaped a conviction on the more weighty count of second-degree murder in Damond’s killing.
After the verdict, the former officer was immediately taken into custody and led from the courtroom in handcuffs, CNN reported. He now faces a maximum 12 1/12 years in prison for the third-degree murder charge, and four years for second-degree manslaughter.
At his trial, Noor took the stand to recount the harrowing series of events on the night of July 15, 2017. The officer, who was booted from the force after being charged in 2018, testified that he feared for his partner’s life as Damond suddenly appeared at the driver’s window of their patrol car in the dark alley behind her home.
Noor, 33, testified that he saw a terrified expression on his partner’s face at the moment he saw Damond, who was unarmed, moving to raise her hand. Though he didn’t see a gun, the ex-officer said he was afraid his partner might be shot as the woman raised her hand, spurring him to jump into action and pull his gun to shoot from the passenger seat across his partner.
Oh, Jesus!” Noor recalled his partner yelling at the sight of the blond-haired woman outside their vehicle. Neighbors reported hearing what sounded like Damond banging her hands on the car.
“I had to make a split-second decision,” he testified, saying he fired in an effort to protect his partner’s life. “I fired one shot, [and] the threat was gone. She could’ve had a weapon.”
However, prosecutors argued that Noor overreacted and didn’t take time to assess the situation before shooting Damond, a 40-year-old who’d recently moved to Minneapolis to be with her fiancé, through the car’s open window. She was gunned down a month before her wedding.
Lt. Derick Hacker of the Crystal Police Department in Minnesota testified for the prosecution and described Noor’s use of deadly force as “excessive and objectively unreasonable.” Hacker also argued that being “startled” by the woman was much different from “fearing death or great bodily harm,” CNN reported.
In a statement, Damond’s family said they were satisfied with Tuesday’s verdict. Damond’s fiancé, Don Damond, told the court he hoped the case would prompt “a complete transformation of policing in Minneapolis and around the country.” The victim’s father, John Ruszczyk, stated he believes the decision “reflects the community’s commitment to three important pillars of civil society: The rule of law, the respect of the sanctity of life and the obligation of the police force to serve and protect.”
For many, the racial dynamics of the case left some to wonder if a white officer would be treated as harshly if the roles were reversed.
“It was the most predictable outcome of any police violence case in American history,” activist Shaun King tweeted of the verdict, though he said he was glad Noor was found guilty of murder.
“A Black Muslim immigrant cop killed a white woman,” he added.
Another user commented: “Next time someone tells you that it’s TOO DIFFICULT TO CONVICT POLICE for killing someone just remember that EVERY time a Black cop kills an unarmed white person the courts are suddenly EASILY able to get a conviction.”
The case also invoked the memory of Philando Castile, the black Minnesota man shot and killed during traffic stop on July 6, 2016. The officer, Jeronimo Yanez, was acquitted on all charges.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman shot down claims that race was a factor in the officer’s conviction, however, critics remain skeptical.
Noor is scheduled to be sentenced on June 7.