Ex-Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor was sentenced to 12 1/2 years in prison Friday for the 2017 fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.
The case grabbed worldwide attention, partly because of Damond’s Australian heritage, and raised questions among community members about the role of race and gender in the investigation and criminal prosecution of officer-involved shootings. Damond is a white woman from Australia; Noor was born in Somalia.
Jurors convicted Noor, 33, on April 30 of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for killing Damond in July 2017 while responding to her 911 call about a possible sexual assault behind her south Minneapolis home. They acquitted him of second-degree murder with intent.
“He does not take personal responsibility …” she said. “He has not acknowledged that he could have handled the situation any other way.”
Noor’s defense attorneys community members and his partner Matthew Harrity asked for leniency, citing his good standing in the community, saying it was irrelevant to the events of that night.
“The law does not allow lenience if someone is a good person.” she said. “Good people sometimes do bad things.”
Before receiving the sentence. Noor offered his apologies to Damond’s family, acknowledging that it was a long time coming. He said he will live with the consequences of his actions for the rest of his life.
“I caused this tragedy and it is my burden,” he said, adding that he will think about Damond and her family forever, and that he will live the best life he can moving forward.
“I owe that to her and her family,” he said.
Noor described how in the moment he shot Damond he felt fear, then walked around and saw her on the ground. Then he felt horror.
“Seeing her there, I knew I was wrong,” he said. “Working to save her life and watching her slip away is a feeling I can’t explain.”
Harrity looked on during the sentencing, emotionless.
In a statement to the court, Damond’s fiance, Don Damond, described the pain of the past 23 months in the aftermath of losing his “beloved dearest friend.”
“Dear Justine, I miss you so much every day. Every moment.” he read from a letter to her. “I don’t understand how such a thing could happen to you and us.”
He described how he cried when he saw her wedding dress in the shop a week after she died. The two were scheduled to marry in a month.
“I’m sorry I told you to call police that night. I thought they would have helped you and helped that woman,” he said.
Noor’s attorneys requested that Quaintance sentence Noor to probation or a durational departure — less prison time than state sentencing guidelines recommend.
In arguing for that sentence, defense attorney Thomas Plunkett said Noor is living with his mistake, and should not go to prison because of a “culture of fear and that’s what brings us to this tragedy.” Time behind bars, he said, would only be for the sake of revenge.
“A prison sentence will do nothing to change police culture because it doesn’t change police leadership,” he said. “A prison sentence only punishes Noor for culture that he didn’t create, and one he would like to see change himself.”
Forty-four community members ranging from relatives to a state legislator to an imam wrote letters to Quaintance supporting Noor. They asked for leniency, noting that Noor, a Somali immigrant, was a “bridge” between the Somali community and others, volunteered in the community, served as a youth soccer coach and is a devoted father to his school-aged special-needs son.
“While not minimizing the loss experienced by the friends and loved ones of the victim in this case, I would urge that Mr. Noor’s decades of positive contributions to Hennepin County not be overlooked when determining a sentence for the offenses he has been convicted of,” wrote supporter Shakil Malik, who identified himself as Noor’s friend since high school and a lead deputy county attorney in Omaha, Neb. “A split second’s poor judgment should not deprive the community of having someone as good and kind as Mr. Noor productively contributing to its betterment.”
Noor testified at trial that he and his partner had finished checking on Damond’s call and were parked at the end of her alley about 11:40 p.m. on July 15, 2017 when a loud bang on their squad car startled them.
Noor testified that he feared they were being ambushed, a theme defense attorneys Thomas Plunkett and Peter Wold pushed from jury selection through the trial’s resolution a month later.
Assistant Hennepin County attorneys Amy Sweasy and Patrick Lofton pushed back on the defense’s theory of the case, arguing that Noor acted recklessly and without fully evaluating the circumstances.
Prosecutors also argued that the bang on the squad, which Harrity also said occurred, never happened, and was invented by the officers’ supervisor and an investigator from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Don Damond testified at trial that Justine had grown concerned over noises she heard behind their home, and had called him while he was on a business trip. They had met years earlier on a meditation retreat in Colorado, and when they became engaged, she volunteered to move from her home in Sydney, Australia to Minnesota until his son finished college.
Don Damond testified that he suggested that Justine call police, whom he had viewed as “the right people” to contact.
“All will be well,” he said he thought to himself after she called 911.
But in their last phone call, Justine mentioned that police had arrived, and then went dark, failing to respond to Don Damond’s several follow-up text messages and phone calls.
“Hello?” he texted her about 2:26 a.m. Minnesota time in one last effort to reach her. He was in Las Vegas for his work as a vice president and general manager of an entertainment company that manages two Minnesota casinos.
He later received a phone call from a Minneapolis police officer.
“He said, ‘Well, there’s been a shooting and we believe Justine is deceased as a result of that shooting,’ ” Damond testified after removing his glasses and taking a deep breath. “And I, I, um, I, I was like — I couldn’t believe it. What do you mean shooting?”
Don Damond said he was given little information before the officer ended the call.
He tried calling Justine one more time at 3:22 a.m. Minnesota time, hoping it was all a mix-up.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said, “so I called … thinking again there has to be a mistake here.”