Job one for the Minneapolis Police Department and city officials in the wake of the Mohamed Noor verdict is to double down on ongoing efforts to rebuild public trust in the men and women responsible for keeping the public safe.
On Tuesday, Noor became the first Minnesota cop to be convicted of an on-duty murder. The case laid bare serious problems with the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. At the same time, it is wrong of some to — in effect — convict the entire force because of the criminal tactions of a single officer, or to suggest that the verdict in this case proves that all police-involved shootings should end in conviction.
A jury of 10 men and two women convicted Noor of two of the three counts leveled against him — third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter — while acquitting him of second-degree murder. The former officer was on trial in Hennepin District Court for the fatal 2017 shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, who had called 911 to report noises behind her south Minneapolis home.
Prosecutors argued at trial that Noor violated police training when he reached across his partner to shoot Damond through the driver’s side window of their squad car instead of first identifying her and addressing her verbally. Defense attorneys countered that Noor was trained to react to the threat he perceived after he and his partner heard what sounded like a slap on their vehicle and saw the raised arm of a looming silhouette.
The case drew worldwide attention in part because Damond was a native of Australia but also because of the unusual circumstances — an innocent, unarmed woman gunned down by a Somali-American member of the police force she had summoned for protection.
The trial revealed troubling evidence that several officers violated department procedures after the shooting in what turned out to be an unsuccessful effort to create a “blue wall” of protection around Noor.
Damond’s father, John Ruszczyk, rightly accused some Minneapolis police of “active resistance” to the investigation and said BCA investigators showed “gross incompetence.” And Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman confirmed the serious mistakes made by police and the BCA in the early stages of the investigation.
Against that backdrop of police and investigative flaws — as well as the pending $50 million civil suit filed against the city by Damond’s family — Minneapolis and its Police Department must make good on Police Chief Medaria Arradondo’s post-verdict pledge to learn from the case and Mayor Jacob Frey’s promise to improve police-community relations, especially among people of color.
In addition, the Noor case re-emphasized the critical importance of body cameras. Neither Noor or his partner, Matthew Harrity, turned their cameras on when they arrived in Damond’s alley, only activating them after the shooting. Other officers who responded to the scene also failed to follow department protocols for body cameras.
This trial also underscored the need for police training that rejects the “warrior” mind-set while also giving officers the tools they need to keep themselves and civilians safe on streets made more dangerous by the prevalence of guns.
“The jury’s decision reflects the community’s commitment to three important pillars of a civil society: the rule of law, the respect for the sanctity of life and the obligation of the police force to serve and protect,” Ruszczyk said Tuesday. “We believe this guilty verdict strengthens those pillars. We hope this will be a catalyst for further change.”
So do we.