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World & Nation

Minneapolis police officer who shot 911 caller sentenced to 12½ years

Mohamed Noor listens to victim impact statements during his sentencing hearing with his lawyers Pete
Mohamed Noor, center, listens to victim impact statements during his sentencing hearing June 7 in Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis.
(Leila Navidi / TNS)

A former Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed an unarmed woman who had called 911 said Friday he “knew in an instant I was wrong” and apologized to her family, just moments before a judge brushed off a defense request for leniency and ordered him to prison for 12½ years.

Mohamed Noor was convicted in April of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the July 2017 death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a 40-year-old dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia who had called 911 to report a possible rape in the alley behind her home. Noor shot Damond when she approached his squad car.

Noor’s lawyers had argued for a light sentence, saying sending him to prison would only compound the tragedy and keep him from doing service to make amends.

But Judge Kathryn Quaintance sentenced Noor, 33, to a term identical to the recommendation under state guidelines.

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“The act may have been based on a miscalculation, but it was an intentional act,” Quaintance said. “Good people sometimes do bad things.”

The case, which sparked outrage in both the U.S. and Australia, has been fraught by race from the start. Noor is Somali American and Damond was white; some in the community argued it was treated differently than police shootings in which the victims were black and the officers were white.

One activist at the courthouse Friday carried a sign that had the words “Black, Muslim, Immigrant and Guilty” with boxes checked next to each word. Another read, “NOOR: Victim of Identity Politics.”

Noor, his voice breaking several times as he spoke publicly about the shooting for the first time, apologized repeatedly to Damond and her family for “taking the life of a perfect person.”

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“I have lived with this and I will continue to live with this,” Noor said. “I caused this tragedy and it is my burden. 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.”

Noor said from the moment he pulled the trigger he felt fear, and he was horrified to see Damond’s body on the ground.

Tom Plunkett, Noor’s attorney, asked Quaintance for a sentence as lenient as probation. He described Noor’s desire to become a police officer in part to repay a debt he felt to the country that took him in long ago as a refugee.

But prosecutor Amy Sweasy called for the recommended 12½ years. She noted that Damond had called 911 seeking help.

“And it was the defendant’s responsibility when he encountered her in that alley to investigate and appreciate and discern that before he pulled the trigger,” she said. “That was his responsibility, and his failure to do that is what resulted in the criminal act.”

Noor testified during his trial that a loud bang on the squad car startled him and his partner, and that he saw a woman at his partner’s window raising her arm. He said he fired to protect his partner’s life. But prosecutors criticized Noor for shooting without seeing a weapon or Damond’s hands, and disputed whether either of them really heard a bang.

Damond’s father, John Ruszczyk, in a statement read in court, asked for the maximum sentence and called her killing “an obscene act by an agent of the state.”

Noor was sent after his conviction to the most secure unit at the state’s maximum security prison in Oak Park Heights for his own safety.

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