MINNEAPOLIS, (AP) — The Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed an unarmed woman when she called 911 to report a possible rape behind her house was sentenced Thursday. It was the maximum the judge could impose, but less than half the time he was sentenced for the murder conviction that was overturned last year.
In the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk-Damond in 2017, Mohamed Noor was initially found guilty of third-degree murder. He was also convicted of manslaughter. Noor, a U.S.-Australian dual citizen and yoga teacher, was engaged to marry. However, the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected Noor’s murder conviction and sentence. They said that the third degree murder statute doesn’t apply to the case since it only applies to conduct directed at an individual, not a particular person as was the case with Damond.
Kathryn Quaintance was also the judge at Noor’s trial. She granted prosecutors’ request for Noor’s maximum sentence according to state guidelines, which is 57 months. She ignored the defense’s request to be sentenced for 41 months. This is the lowest end of the range. Noor could be released on supervised release if she behaves well.
Quaintance replied, “Mr. Noor. It is not surprising that you have been such a good prisoner.” “I don’t know of any authority that would allow me to reduce your sentence. To give her stiffest sentence, she cited Noor’s “shooting across your nose of your partner” as well as the fact that she was putting others at risk the night of the shooting.
Quaintance said that she could not deviate because neither side sought to depart from the sentencing guidelines.
Noor, who was fired following his charges, has already served 29 months. Minnesota has two-thirds of its prison sentences for inmates who behave well. The remainder are supervised releases.
Noor, who testified in his 2019 trial, said that he and the partner were driving slowly through an alleyway when a loud bang sounded from their police vehicle. This made Noor fear for his life. Noor claimed that he saw a woman standing at his partner’s driver side window, raising her right arm and then firing a shot from the passenger’s seat to stop what he believed was a threat.
He was sentenced at 12 1/2 years for murder and had spent most of the time in an outside-of-state facility.
Noor’s appeal to his murder conviction was closely monitored for potential implications in the case against Derek Chauvin (the Minneapolis police officer convicted on the same charge in George Floyd’s killing). Experts predicted that Noor’s third degree murder conviction would be overturned by the state Supreme Court. However, this outcome will likely not have much impact since Chauvin was also convicted on Floyd’s second-degree murder charge. Chauvin was sentenced for 22 1/2 years.
Tom Plunkett, Noor’s attorney, and Peter Wold, asked for 41 months at the sentencing. They cited Noor’s good behavior behind bars as well as the harsh conditions he endured during his many months in isolation, far from the rest of the prison population.
Plunkett claimed Thursday that the victim was a generous and kind person, which he stated was true. Plunkett stated that Noor is a “similar good person” to him. Plunkett said that Noor was always trying to help others and recounted Noor’s positive behavior in prison.
Amy Sweasy (assistant Hennepin County attorney) asked Quaintance to sentence Noor to the longest possible sentence. Because of Noor’s character, she said that the case was “worse than usual”. She said, “The court cannot impose the harshest sentence.”
John Ruszczyk’s and Maryan Sheffernan, Damond’s parents, asked for the longest sentence. Prosecutors read a statement in which they described Damond’s death as “utterly gratuitous” while stating that the Minnesota Supreme Court’s repeal of a “poorly drafted law” did not change the jury’s conviction that Noor had committed murder.
They stated, “Our sorrow will never end and our lives will continue to be empty.”
Don Damond, the victim’s fiancée, made his statement via Zoom. He began his statement by praising the prosecution for their “sound application” of the law and criticizing state Supreme Court for its reverse, which he said did not change the truth that was discovered during the trial.
Justine should still be alive. “No amount of politics, justification, embellishment or cover-up will change that truth,” he stated.
However, Don Damond spoke directly to Noor and said he forgives him. Justine would also have forgiven him for “your inability to manage your emotions that night.”
Noor, dressed in a suit and tie, and sporting a mask on his face, seemed impassive while the statements of the loved ones were read. After addressing the court briefly, Noor said, “I’m deeply thankful for Mr. Damond’s forgiveness.” I’m deeply sorry for the pain I caused this family. I’m going to follow his lead and try to unify the family. We are grateful.
Damond’s murder angered residents in Australia and the U.S., leading to the resignation from Minneapolis’ chief police officer. It led to the department changing its policy on body camera. Noor and his partner were not equipped with theirs when they investigated Damond’s 911 call.
Noor, a Somali American, is believed to have been the first Minnesota officer to be convicted for murder in an on-duty shooting. While activists who had long called for officers being held accountable for the deadly uses of force applauded this murder conviction, they lamented the fact that the officer was Black while the victim was white. Some wondered if the case was treated in the same way as cases involving Black victims.
Minneapolis agreed to pay $20 Million to Damond’s family just days after Noor’s conviction. It was the largest settlement for police violence in Minnesota at that time. This was eclipsed by a $27million settlement that Minneapolis reached in Floyd’s murder, just as Chauvin was about to go on trial.