Black police officer convicted of murdering woman
The verdict has sparked questions over whether race played a role in the conviction.
A US jury took little more than a day to convict a black Minneapolis police officer of murder in the fatal shooting of an unarmed white woman who had called 911 to report a possible crime.
Mohamed Noor was also convicted of manslaughter over the July 2017 death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a 40-year-old dual citizen of the US and Australia whose death bewildered and angered people in both countries.
Noor, 33, testified that he and his partner heard a loud bang on their squad car that startled them, and that he fired “to stop the threat” after he saw a woman appear at his partner’s window, raising her arm.
Prosecutors questioned whether the “bang” actually happened, and attacked Noor for not seeing a weapon or Ms Damond’s hands before he opened fire.
The guilty verdict has sparked questions about whether race played a role in the conviction.
It is rare for police officers to be convicted after asserting they opened fire in a life-or-death situation, but some Minnesota community members said they saw it coming for Noor because he is Somali American.
John Thompson, an activist and friend of Philando Castile, a black man who was killed in 2016 by a Latino suburban police officer who was later acquitted, said: “Officer Noor was going to jail no matter what, because he’s a black man who shot a white woman in the state of Minnesota.”
Alana Ramadan, an African American and Muslim who has called for the resignation of Hennepin County’s head prosecutor, said the African American people she has spoken with knew Noor would be convicted.
“It’s almost like there’s no hope,” she said.
Hennepin County attorney Mike Freeman dismissed the idea that race played a role in the case.
“That simply is not true,” he said.
“Race has never been a factor in any of my decisions and never will be. We look at each case based on the facts and the evidence and the law that’s in front of us. And I will stand by what we have done.”
When asked how Noor’s case was different, Mr Freeman, who has chosen not to charge some white officers in the past, said: “The evidence showed that the officer acted unreasonably.”
Noor, a two-year veteran who testified that he shifted to policing from a career in business because he “always wanted to serve”, was acquitted of the most serious charge of intentional second-degree murder.
He faces up to 15 years on the third-degree murder conviction and nearly five years on the manslaughter conviction, although judges are not bound by state sentencing guidelines and can impose much lower sentences.
Noor showed no visible emotion during sentencing and did not look back at his family, but his wife was crying.
Damond’s father, John Ruszczyk, said the jury’s decision reflected respect for the rule of law and the sanctity of life.
“Justine was killed by a police officer, an agent of the state,” he said. “We believe he was properly charged with a crime.”
Mr Ruszczyk also bitterly criticised police, saying the family believes “the conviction was reached despite the active resistance of a number of Minneapolis police officers, including the head of the union, and either active resistance or gross incompetence” by state investigators early on.
The death of Ms Damond, a life coach who was engaged to be married a month after the shooting, sparked outrage in both the US and Australia. It also cost Minneapolis’ police chief her job and contributed to the electoral defeat of the city’s mayor a few months later.
Neither officer had a body camera running when Ms Damond was shot. Both switched on their cameras in time to capture the aftermath, which included their attempts to save Ms Damond with CPR. But Noor’s bullet hit her in a key abdominal artery, and a medical examiner testified she lost so much blood so quickly that even swift medical care might not have saved her.
Prosecutors sought to raise questions about the way police and state investigators handled the aftermath.
They played excerpts from body cameras worn by responding officers that revealed many officers turning them on and off at will. One officer could be heard on his camera at one point telling Noor to “keep your mouth shut until you have to say anything to anybody”.
They also highlighted the lack of forensic evidence proving Ms Damond touched the squad car.
Noor is among the many Somali immigrants who settled in Minnesota after coming to America due to civil war in his home country. His hiring was celebrated by city leaders eager to diversify the police force in a city rich in immigrants.