Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor was convicted Tuesday of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for the 2017 fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, an Australian woman who called 911 to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her southwest Minneapolis home. Noor is the first former law enforcement officer in Minnesota history to be found guilty of murder for an on-duty killing.
While the jury’s decision brings Noor’s legal saga to a close — at least until the appeal process begins — many questions remain about race, policing and what comes next.
Here are five key takeaways from the case.
1. Third-degree murder convictions are exceedingly rare in Minnesota
In order to reach a conviction for third-degree murder, jurors needed to conclude that Noor caused Damond’s death “by perpetuating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind,” without regard for life but also without intent to kill and was committed in a “reckless or wanton” manner — understanding that someone may be killed. Prosecutors were not required to prove that Noor’s actions were “specifically directed at the particular person whose death occurred,” but that he knew his actions carried out with “a heedless disregard” could kill someone.
Longtime defense attorney Joe Friedberg said he was shocked Noor was convicted of the third degree murder. That statute is usually used in cases where someone acts in a reckless way and ends up killing someone, but never had a target.
But Noor clearly had a target in this case. The statute also required that the jury found that Noor had a “depraved mind,” but that isn’t defined.
“I’ve got to believe that if the judge doesn’t throw out that conviction, then the Court of Appeals will,” he said.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Tuesday that he is confident the conviction will hold up on appeal.
2. Noor is likely to spend years in prison
Both charges carry presumptive prison sentences. Because Noor has no criminal history, Freeman said the presumptive sentence for the third-degree murder conviction is 12½ years, and the manslaughter conviction four years. They likely will be served concurrently, he said. Ultimately, Judge Kathryn Quaintance will determine the sentence.
3. Concerns about racial equity linger
Noor’s conviction marked the first time a former Minnesota police officer was convicted of murder for an on-duty shooting. While few police officers who kill minorities are ever charged, let alone convicted, many observers were quick to point out that a conviction resulted when the officer was black and the victim was white.
Longtime civil rights activist Mel Reeves praised the verdict for demonstrating that “police shouldn’t be above the law.” At the same time, Reeves pointed to an aspect in this case that, he said, made it easier for the jury to convict Noor. “He’s Somali. He’s black. And he’s Muslim — that’s a trifecta.”
Reeves said “the system has an easier time convicting a black man in a blue uniform.” However, he added that in police shootings, “this is what should happen all the time.”
4. Questions remain about the investigation
The prosecution’s case against Noor raised questions about Minneapolis police conduct and the BCA’s investigation. Prosecutors crafted a picture of police secrecy from the shooting’s immediate aftermath to trial, showing that several officers turned off their body cameras at the scene, accusing a key supervisor of inventing the story that Noor and Harrity heard a loud noise on their squad before the shooting, and calling out dozens of officers for refusing to speak with investigators until compelled by a grand jury. Despite his office’s attack on the credibility of several Minneapolis police officers and the BCA, Freeman defended every previous police shooting investigation his office has reviewed — and cleared of criminal wrongdoing — as “superb.” Freeman said “initially” there were mistakes, but his office raised concerns that were rectified. “I’m pleased to report that both [Minneapolis police] and BCA have done an exemplary job” in other cases, he said.
Damond’s father, John Ruszczyk, said during a post-verdict news conference, “We would like to note that we believe a conviction was reached despite the active resistance of a number of Minneapolis officers, including the head of their union, and either active resistance or gross incompetence of the BCA, particularly at the beginning of the investigation.” On Wednesday, Gov. Tim Walz said his office will look into the BCA’s handling of the case.
5. A civil rights lawsuit against the city is still pending
In July, Damond’s relatives filed a $50 million federal lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis, former police chief Janee Harteau, current chief Medaria Arradondo, Noor and Harrity, claiming the officers conspired to cover up evidence by not turning on their body-worn cameras and later hiding behind a “blue wall of silence.” The lawsuit was put on hold pending the outcome of the trial, but on Wednesday city council members met behind closed doors to discuss the litigation. The city began private mediation with the Damond’s family and attorney, Robert Bennett, on Wednesday morning, according to a source familiar with the proceedings.
It could be among the largest police-misconduct payouts in the city’s history. Minneapolis paid out its largest settlement of $4.5 million in 2007 to Duy Ngo, a former police officer shot by another officer who mistook him for a fleeing suspect. It paid $3 million to the family of David Smith, who died after a struggle with police at the YMCA in 2010.
Staff writers Paul Walsh, Brandon Stahl, Chao Xiong, Libor Jany, Liz Sawyer and Andy Mannix contributed to this report.