Police Officer Found Guilty of Homicide

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Minneapolis police

Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor has been found guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter over the shooting death of Australian woman Justine Damond Ruszczyk.

Mr Noor has been remanded in custody and faces up to 15 years in prison.

The offences

In the United States, third-degree murder is where a person causes the death of another through a dangerous act “without regard for human life but without intent to cause” death.

Second-degree manslaughter is where a person creates an unreasonable risk of causing death or great bodily harm to another through culpable negligence.

The killing of Justine Damond

Ms Damond was wearing her pyjamas the night she was shot dead by Mr Noor from the passenger seat of his patrol car.

The 40-year old woman had called 911 twice on the Saturday night to report what she thought was an assault taking place in alley behind her home. During the second call, she was assured that police were on their way.

Mr Noor and his partner Matthew Harrity were the responding officers.

Mr Noor was suspended during the ensuing eight-month investigation, and exercised his right to silence. However, his partner told investigators the officers were startled by a loud sound moments before Mr Noor shot Ms Damond in the stomach. Both officers got out of the car to perform CPR.

The bullet hit Ms Damond in a key abdominal artery, and she died of blood loss.

Lack of video evidence

In court, Mr Noor testified that he was frightened by a loud bang near the police car, and fired his gun upon seeing a woman who appeared to be raising her arm. He said he fired to protect his partner’s life, but prosecutors criticised Noor’s decision to shoot and put to him that he had “no basis” to believe the woman had a weapon. As he could not even see her hands.

Minneapolis police are supposed to wear body cameras and are required to have them turned on while responding to all situations involving alleged criminal activity, as well as during encounters with the public. However, there was no footage of the incident because – the officer’s claimed – they did not activate their body cams, and the dash cam recorder in the car was pointing in the wrong direction.

But both officers apparently had the time and presence of mind after the shooting to turn on their cameras to capture them performing CPR and trying to assist Ms Damond.

Cover up

During the trial, prosecutors played excerpts from body cameras worn by responding officers that revealed many officers turned them on and off at will. One officer could even be heard telling Mr Noor to “keep your mouth shut until you have to say anything to anybody”.

Prosecutors also called into question the credibility Mr Noor’s version of the events.

The ultimate question was whether Mr Noor was justified in shooting Ms Damond, which took into account the testimony of the officers present.

They found the officer not guilty of the most serious charge brought – second-degree murder- but guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

The Damond family fights on

Ms Damond’s father, John Ruszczyk, said the family are satisfied with the verdict.

He has filed a $US50 million ($68 million) civil rights lawsuit against Mr Noor, the City of Minneapolis and others for the wrongful death of his daughter.

Both the City of Minneapolis and Mr Noor wanted the civil case to be delayed until after the finalisation of the criminal case. Civil proceedings are expected to be commenced after the sentencing hearing, which is scheduled for next month.

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Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist, and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team. Sonia is the winner of the Mondaq Thought Leadership Awards, Spring 2022.

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