Jury finds Mohamed Noor guilty on two counts

May 01, 2019 05:36 AM

Jurors Tuesday found former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor guilty of murder in the third degree and manslaughter in the second degree in connection to the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.

However, he was found not guilty of murder in the second degree. Sentencing is scheduled for June 7.

Noor was handcuffed and immediately taken into custody after the verdict was announced. KSTP's Beth McDonough reports deputies handed Don Damond - Justine's fiancé - a box of tissues.

Justine Damond had called 911 to report a possible crime occurring outside her South Minneapolis home in July 2017 when she was shot while approaching the vehicle Noor and his partner Matthew Harrity were inside.

Noor had pleaded not guilty on all charges, claiming self-defense.

A jury of 10 men and two women got the case Monday afternoon. The jurors had been sequestered during deliberations.

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One of Noor's attorney's, Tom Plunkett, said he had no comment following the verdict.

Don Damond, meanwhile, spoke at a press conference following the verdict, thanking Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman's office for its decision to bring charges in the case.

"The evidence in this case clearly showed an egregious failure by the Minneapolis Police Department," he said.

He also thanked everyone who had shown support over the past almost-two years.

"We have not walked this path alone," Don Damond said.

Justine's father John Ruszczyk said he was pleased with the verdict.

"We are satisfied with the outcome," he said. "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.

"We believe this verdict strengthens those pillars. We hope this will be a catalyst for future change."

But Ruszczyk had harsh words for police and members of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, who investigated the shooting.

"We believe this verdict was reached despite the active resistance of a number of Minneapolis police officers - including the head of their union - and (despite) either the active resistance or gross incompetence of the BCA," he said. "Particularly at the beginning of this investigation."

Freeman, meanwhile, praised the jurors' decision.

"We believe the jury carefully reviewed the evidence and made the correct decision," he said.

The group Justice for Justine has scheduled a rally at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Hennepin County Government Center. In addition, Twin Cities Coalition for Justice for Jamar, a community activist group, was also scheduled to address the verdict after Freeman's press conference concluded.

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo issued a statement after the verdict was announced.

"I've just been made aware that the jurors presiding over the former MPD Officer Noor trial have reached a verdict and their decision is guilty on the charge of Murder in the Third Degree and guilty of Manslaughter in the Second Degree. I respect the verdict rendered.

"I want to extend my sincere apologies to the family and friends of Justine Damond Ruszcyzk. 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.

"I want to acknowledge the important role and work of the criminal justice agencies who were involved in this case including the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office and the Hennepin County Attorney's Office.

"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. Moving forward, I remain committed to all communities the MPD has taken an oath to serve by continuing to build trust by focusing on our procedural justice efforts. Through collaboration and partnerships with all of our stakeholders, I am hopeful that we will strengthen our community wellness and safety."          

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey also issued a statement on the matter.

"Justine Damond was a healer who lived her values. She was a daughter, a fiancé, a step mom, and a neighbor. Across the board, her presence quite simply made people happy," it read.

"I know these things about Justine because Don Damond, members of her family, and those who knew her best have shared their memories and stories. 

"I've also come to appreciate that there are moments in every city's history that leave its residents searching for answers – as to why, as to how things could have been different. 

"What matters most for Minneapolis is how we respond in the days and weeks ahead. Our city must come together – not for any single person, entity, or organization – not for any reason beyond our love for each other and the values that hold us together."

Frey's statement also said the city will continue to stand behind the police force and members of the Somali community.

"Let me be clear, we will stand with our Somali community. We will stand together for the city we love," his statement contiued.

"And we will also stand behind Chief Arradondo and our Minneapolis police officers who are committed to improving community-police relations. 

"While today's verdict may bring closure to some, it will also serve as a reminder of how far we must go to foster trust where it's been broken. We must acknowledge that historical and ongoing racialized trauma continues to impact our society."

The Somali American Police Association issued a statement extending sympathy to Damond's family, but questioning if institutional prejudice played a role in the verdict against Noor.

"The Somali American Police Association (SAPA) extends its condolences and prayers to the loved ones of Justine Ruszczyk-Damond. The devastating circumstances surrounding this case have made a substantial impact on both Ruszczyk's and Officer Mohamed Noor's families," the statement read.

"Officer Noor is the first police officer in Minnesota's history to be convicted of murder while in the line of duty. SAPA believes the institutional prejudices against people of color, including officers of color, have heavily influenced the verdict of this case. The aggressive manner in which the Hennepin County Attorney's Office went after Officer Noor reveals that there were other motives at play other than serving justice.

"Officer Noor joined the police force to make a difference and reflect the community he serves. And while historically it has not been uncommon for minority officers to receive differential treatment, it is discouraging to see this treatment persist in 2019. SAPA fears the outcome of this case will have a devastating effect on police morale and make the recruitment of minority officers all the more difficult.

"Nonetheless, SAPA will continue fulfilling its mission of building trust among communities, neighbors, and the police."

The death of Justine Damond, 40, a life coach who was engaged to be married a month after the shooting, sparked outrage in both the U.S. and Australia.

Noor, 33, broke more than 1 ½ years of silence about the shooting when he testified in his defense, saying he became a police officer because he "wanted to serve."

He was fired after being charged.

Third-degree murder in Minnesota means causing the death of another through a dangerous act "without regard for human life but without intent to cause" death. The presumptive sentence is about 12½ years. Second-degree manslaughter, defined as creating unreasonable risk of causing death or great bodily harm to another through culpable negligence, has a presumptive sentence of about 4½ years.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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