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Minneapolis cop resentenced to under 5 years after reversal of murder conviction

Race and police reform issues loomed over the resentencing hearing for Mohamed Noor, a Black officer who fatally shot a white woman who called 911 to report a possible sexual assault.

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — A former Minneapolis police officer whose murder conviction for the 2017 killing of an Australian woman was recently overturned was resentenced Thursday to a 57-month term in prison, the maximum for his remaining second-degree manslaughter conviction. 

The decision by Hennepin County judge Kathryn Quaintance replaces Mohamed Noor’s earlier sentence of 12 years and 6 months for third-degree murder in the death of Justine Ruszczyck Damond, whom he shot after she called 911 to report a suspected sexual assault.

Noor's third-degree murder conviction was overturned in September,  when the Minnesota Supreme Court determined that third-degree murder must involve dangerous conduct that endangers people other than the person killed. 

Prosecutors and members of Damond’s family pushed for the maximum sentence at Thursday's hearing, arguing that Noor’s position as a police officer made it particularly egregious.

“By every measure, the facts of this case, what the jury heard… are worse than typical,” prosecutor Amy Sweazy said. “[Damond] followed through with her end of the deal. She called 911-- a second time. She went out to greet the police.” For that, Sweazy said, she was shot. 

The reversal of the murder conviction, the prosecutor argued, “doesn’t change the fact that this jury found that what Mr. Noor did was worse than second-degree manslaughter.” 

Noor’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, pointed to his client's status as a model prisoner and the difficulty of being incarcerated during the Covid-19 pandemic. “We are here for sentencing in a different time,” Plunkett said. “Mr. Noor’s time in incarceration has been harder than anyone could have imagined before the pandemic.”

Plunkett argued for a minimum sentence of 41 months, which would have seen Noor complete his sentence by the end of 2022. 

Members of the Twin Cities' substantial Somali community, of which Noor is a member, turned out in force for the resentencing. Sweazy said Damond's family tuned in from Australia despite the time difference.

The victim's sister-in-law, attorney Katerina Ruszczyck, decried Minnesota’s murder statutes and warned Noor against “the misguided myth that he was in the right.” 

“There are no lessons to learn if his ego continues to be stroked by the culture of police in this state,” she said. “The truth is there is no justice for Justine, not until police culture is changed and the community is safe.” 

  Damond's widower, Don Damond, provided his victim impact state via Zoom. 

“In Justine’s life, she was a unifier, not a separator,” Damond said. “She thought that all people deserve mercy, and a chance to transform. And I have no doubt she would have forgiven you, Mohamed.” 

“I forgive you, Mohamed. All I ask is that you use this experience to learn to do good for other people," he added.

Speaking after the hearing, at least one member of Noor’s family was less than pleased. "This judge hates the Somali community," Noor's father Mohamed Abass said as he left the hearing. Noor was taken into custody immediately after his resentencing and did not comment to the press. 

Noor's earlier third-degree murder conviction was the first for a police officer in the state's history. The circumstances – a Black officer convicted for the killing of a white woman in a city where white officers frequently kill Black citizens without charges – led some to call Noor the victim of a double standard. 

Quaintance did not discuss the Somali community at the hearing, but did have harsh words for the Minneapolis Police Department. "The citizens of Minneapolis raised questions that remain unanswered,” the judge said. “Is what we saw normal for the Minneapolis Police Department and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension?” 

“Why should a civilian have to be afraid of approaching a squad car?” she continued. “Why were Mr. Noor and Mr. Harrity so reactive? What was their training?” 

She pointed to the 2020 murder of George Floyd and the protests and riots that followed as well as the $47 million settlement the city of Minneapolis reached with Damond’s family as indicators of a need for change. “A large amount of taxpayer dollars will go to Australia, but Minneapolis residents await the promised ‘transformation’” of their police department, Quaintance said. 

Noor has already served 29 ½ months since his 2019 conviction, and is eligible for supervised release after serving two-thirds of his sentence. He is likely to be released in May. 

The former officer expressed regret at the hearing, and thanked Damond for his forgiveness. “I am deeply sorry for the pain I have caused that family, and I will take his advice and be a unifier,” he said. 

The reversal of Noor’s conviction made Derek Chauvin Minnesota’s first-ever police officer convicted of murder for an on-the-job killing. It is also likely to lead to the reversal of Chauvin’s own third-degree murder conviction for Floyd's killing in May 2020, which sparked nationwide protests and riots. Chauvin was sentenced in June to 22 ½ years for his second-degree murder conviction, which was not impacted by the decision.

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