Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor has been found guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.
He was acquitted of second-degree murder.
Noor sat expressionless with his hands clasped in front of him as the verdict was read, while the jurors remained calm, although one hung his head. Noor was immediately handcuffed and taken into custody. Sentencing is scheduled for 9 a.m. June 7.
A jury of two women and 10 men began deliberations Monday after hearing three weeks of testimony and announced the verdict Tuesday afternoon after about 11 hours of deliberation.
Noor’s defense attorney Thomas Plunkett argued that Noor remain free pending sentencing, saying that “Mr. Noor has conducted himself professionally and honorably throughout the entire case.” Judge Kathryn Quaintance declined the request, an Noor was escorted away by deputies.
Noor is the first Minnesota police officer in recent memory to be convicted of murder and manslaughter in connection with an on-duty shooting.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said the presumptive sentence for the third-degree murder conviction is 12 1/2 years, and the manslaughter conviction four years. He anticipates the sentences will merge. In a news conference flanked by Damond’s family members, he said that despite “missteps” by Minneapolis police and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in the initial investigation, justice was ultimately served.
“It does not give us pleasure to call out police wrongdoing, but when it occurs it is our job to let the public know in extreme cases to bring charges and prosecution,” he said. “Today over the last year we’ve done our job and done it well. This is a solid jury verdict and we believe it will be upheld on appeal.”
Justine Damond’s fiancé Don Damond recounted that on the night Noor shot her in her pajamas after calling 911 to report a possible rape behind her south Minneapolis home, Noor was riding in a squad emblazoned with the words “To protect with courage, to serve with compassion.”
“I implore Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and police chief Medaria Arradondo to do everything they can to ensure these essential human values are not just words on a car door, but are lived values of every person in a police department who need a complete transformation of policing in Minneapolis and around the country,” he said.
Damond’s father, John Ruszczyk, said he hopes the verdict serves as a catalyst for further change.
“The jury’s 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,” he said. “We believe this guilty verdict strengthens those pillars.”
Noor’s attorneys and family left without commenting, but before the verdict, his father, Mohamed Abass, didn’t sound or appear hopeful.
“We’re Muslims,” he said. “We will accept any outcome.”
After the verdict was read, Noor’s cousin Goth Ali, who has attended the trial every day, broke down when the verdict was read. “I’m crying because of how the case was handled,” the 32-year-old said. “What happened was injustice. This is shocking. My cousin didn’t get a fair trial.”
In a statement, Arradondo said he accepts the verdict and extended “sincere apologies” to Damond’s family and friends.
“This was indeed a sad and tragic incident that has affected family, friends, neighbors, the City of Minneapolis and people around the world, most significantly in her home country of Australia,” the statement said. “ … As Chief, I will ensure that the MPD learns from this case and we will be in spaces to listen, learn and do all we can to help our communities in healing.”
Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Minneapolis Police Federation, the union that represents rank and file officers, called it “an extremely unfortunate situation for all involved,” but that the union respected the jury’s findings. He extended condolences to the Damond family, while adding that “Our thoughts are with former officer Noor.”
Noor and his partner, Matthew Harrity, were responding to Damond’s 911 call about a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her south Minneapolis home. Noor and Harrity both testified that a loud sound on their squad startled them, and that Noor fired from the passenger seat through Harrity’s open driver’s side window about 11:40 p.m.
Noor testified that upon hearing the sound, Harrity yelled out in fear, struggled to unholster his gun and looked at him with fear in his eyes. Noor told the court that the startling sound, his typically calm partner’s reaction and a figure raising a right arm at Harrity’s window caused him to fear that they were being ambushed.
Prosecutors argued that Noor acted unreasonably when he fired, and was too quick to assume that Damond was a threat. Noor and Harrity should have considered whether Damond was the 911 caller, the subject of Damond’s 911 call or a woman from a previous 911 call placed earlier in the night by a neighbor, prosecutors have said.
Prosecutors leveraged Harrity’s reaction against Noor. While Harrity testified that he was spooked by the noise and the sight of a silhouette at his window, he also acknowledged that he had been unable to see Damond’s hands and that it was premature to use deadly force based on the information he had at the time.
Noor is the second officer in recent Minnesota history to be charged with an on-duty fatal shooting. St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted in 2017 for fatally shooting Philando Castile during a 2016 traffic stop.