Former Somali-American Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor was sentenced Friday to 12 and half years in prison for shooting and killing a white woman who called to report a possible sexual assault around her house in 2017.
Noor, who responded to the incident with his partner, officer Matthew Harrity, claimed he fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk, an Australian who moved to Minneapolis to be with her fiancé, because he feared for his partner’s life.
He said they thought they were being ambushed when Ruszczyk came close to their squad car which was parked in an isolated alley.
A jury, in April, convicted 33-year-old Noor on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He was found not guilty of the most severe charge of second-degree murder and was facing 11 to 15 years in prison.
Before the incident, city officials had celebrated Noor after he became the precinct’s first Somali American police officer in a state with a large Somali population.
He has now become the first officer in Minnesota to be found guilty of murder for an on-duty shooting. During the trial, Noor spoke about the moment he shot the 40-year-old yoga teacher and life coach who was just a month away from her wedding when she was killed.
“If I knew this would happen, I would never have become a cop,” Noor told the jury.
At Friday’s sentencing, Noor apologised for the incident.
“I caused this tragedy and it is my burden,” he told the court. “I wish though that I could relieve that burden others feel from the loss that I caused. I cannot, and that is a troubling reality for me.”
On the night of July 15, 2017, Ruszczyk had called the police twice to report a possible rape behind her Minneapolis home. Officer Harrity responded to the call with colleague Noor, and the two drove their squad car to the scene, but did not hear any sounds of the alleged rape victim.
Both officers would later testify that they heard a loud bang on the squad car and saw a figure approach the driver’s side window, compelling Harrity to shout, “Oh Jesus!”
Noor, at that moment, believed that his partner was under threat and so his “intent was to stop the threat,” he told the court.
He further testified that even though he did not see anything in the woman’s hand, he believed that she could have a weapon in her hand and that his partner “would have been dead.”
This compelled him to fire a single bullet at the woman outside Harrity’s window.
In court, Ruszczyk’s father, John Ruszczyk, called the killing “an obscene act by an agent of the state”.
Don Damond, the deceased’s fiancé, in a touching statement addressed directly to her partner, said: “Dear Justine, I miss you so much every day, every moment.
“I don’t understand how such a thing could happen to you and to us.”
When Noor, Somali-American was convicted in April, Ruszczyk’s fiancé, family and friends welcomed the verdict, but Noor’s family took issue with how he was treated after the shooting and during the trial.
“I’m crying because of how the case was handled,” said his cousin, according to the Minnesota Star-Tribune. “What happened was injustice. This is shocking. My cousin didn’t get a fair trial.”
Albeit it’s rare for on-duty police officers to be convicted for shooting civilians, a section of people, while affirming Noor deserves to be punished have, however, raised eyebrows over how the entire case was handled and are questioning if it would have been a different thing altogether if Noor, a Somali-American was a white officer and the victim was black.
Comparing it to the Philando Castile case, where a jury acquitted Jeronimo Yanez, the white police officer who fatally shot him though he was unarmed, people are calling on authorities to handle cases of such nature without any racial bias whatsoever.
Responding to Noor’s conviction, the Somali American Police Association released a statement registering their displeasure with how the entire case was handled and suggested Noor was singled out because he is black.
“Somali-American officer Noor is the first police officer in Minnesota’s history to be convicted of murder while in the line of duty. SAPA believes the institutional prejudices against people of color, including officers of color, have heavily influenced the verdict of this case. The aggressive manner in which the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office went after Officer Noor reveals that there were other motives at play other than serving justice,” a part of the statement read.
“Somali-American Officer Noor joined the police force to make a difference and reflect the community he serves. And while historically it has not been uncommon for minority officers to receive differential treatment, it is discouraging to see this treatment persist in 2019. SAPA fears the outcome of this case will have a devastating effect on police morale and make the recruitment of minority officers all the more difficult.”
At Friday’s sentencing, activists who were outside the courthouse held signs reading “No double standard” and “NOOR: Victim of Identity Politics,” the BBC reported.
The death of Ruszczyk, a US-Australian dual citizen from Sydney drew worldwide attention, with Australia’s then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull describing it as “inexplicable”.
Last month, Minneapolis promised the deceased’s family $20 million as compensation.