Mohamed Noor
Photo: Hennepin County Minn. Sheriff’s Office

A Minneapolis police officer turned himself in to authorities Tuesday after being charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the fatal shooting death of an Australian native who was living in the city.

Prosecutors charge that Mohamed Noor—whose employment with the police department also ended Tuesday, according to officials—had no justifiable reason to fatally shoot Justine Ruszczyk Damond while he was on the job last July.

Advertisement

“There is no evidence that, in that short time frame, Officer Noor encountered, appreciated, investigated, or confirmed a threat that justified the decision to use deadly force,” a complaint filed in Hennepin County District Court read. “Instead, Officer Noor recklessly and intentionally fired his handgun.”

Noor, 32, shot and killed Damond after she called 911 back on July 15, 2017, to report a possible sexual assault taking place behind her home. The yoga instructor and life coach approached the police vehicle, apparently startling officers before Noor fired the fatal shot through the open driver’s side window.

Noor’s partner, who was in the driver’s seat at the time, told investigators that he had a better view of what was going on, but he still couldn’t tell if the person approaching the vehicle was male or female or adult or child. The partner added that even from his vantage point, he could not see the individual’s hands.

Advertisement

Noor’s attorney Tom Plunket blasted the decision to charge his client, saying, “The facts will show that Officer Noor acted as he has been trained and consistent with established departmental policy.”

Meanwhile, Damond’s father, John Ruszczyk, and her fiance, Don Damond, with whom she lived in Minneapolis, say that they are both relieved by the decision to bring charges.

“No charges can bring our Justine back,” the family said in a statement issued by their attorney. “However, justice demands accountability for those responsible for recklessly killing the fellow citizens they are sworn to protect, and today’s actions reflect that.”

Advertisement

Minnesota law states that police officers can use deadly force to protect themselves or others “from apparent death or great bodily harm,” but prosecutors are arguing that Noor failed to meet that criteria, with the complaint indicating that Noor “did not act objectively reasonably … and abused his authority to use deadly force.”

If Noor is convicted on the third-degree murder charge “for perpetrating an eminently dangerous act,” he could face 12 1/2 years in prison. The second-degree manslaughter charge for “culpable negligence creating unreasonable risk,” carries a four-year sentence. His bail was set at $500,000.

In the same breath as his charges, authorities also announced that Noor had been removed from the Police Department, with Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo only saying that Noor’s time on the force ended Tuesday.

Advertisement

Noor joined the Minneapolis police force in March 2015 with no previous experience, having worked in property management of commercial and residential properties in Minneapolis and St. Louis. After he joined the poice force, a city newsletter hailed him as the first Somali police officer to patrol the 5th Precinct.

At the time of Damond’s shooting death, neither Noor nor his partner had their body cameras activated. The officers did not turn on their bodycams until after the shooting, and there is no squad-camera video of the incident, either.

The lack of video evidence caused widespread criticism, including from Damond’s family, and as a result, last year, the city expanded the required use of bodycams, with officials now saying that officers will be required to turn on their bodycams when responding to all calls, initiating traffic stops or taking other actions.

Advertisement

And even as activists celebrate the city’s decision to hold Noor accountable, there is just one important question that needs to be addressed, as the Minneapolis NAACP astutely said.

The organization noted that the charges “may bring us one step towards justice, but we must continue to ask ‘For who?’ While we applaud the efforts of attorney Freeman, we urge him to be this courageous regardless of the skin color of the officer and the victim.”

Advertisement