Mohamed Noor Receives Shorter Sentence in Fatal Shooting of Justine Ruszczyk
Mohamed Noor, a former Minneapolis police officer who in 2017 killed a woman who had called for help, was resentenced on Thursday to four years and nine months in prison for manslaughter, a reduction of more than seven years from his earlier sentence after the state’s highest court vacated his murder conviction.
When jurors convicted Mr. Noor of third-degree murder in Justine Ruszczyk’s death, it was held up as a rare example of an American police officer facing significant consequences for an unjustified shooting. A judge sentenced him to more than 12 years in prison.
But when the Minnesota Supreme Court threw out that murder conviction last month, while leaving in place a second-degree manslaughter conviction, the case underscored the challenges in prosecuting officers.
In announcing the new prison term for Mr. Noor — which was below the 10-year maximum but at the high end of state sentencing guidelines — Judge Kathryn L. Quaintance alluded to the 2020 murder of George Floyd and the continuing distrust between many residents and officers.
“Since we last met, another person has died at the hands of the police,” said Judge Quaintance of the state district court. “The community exploded. Another police officer has been on trial for murder.”
Ms. Ruszczyk, 40, a yoga instructor who had moved to Minneapolis from Australia, called 911 twice on a summer night four years ago asking for help after hearing a strange noise behind her home. She thought it was possibly a woman screaming or being sexually assaulted, and she wanted the police to investigate.
Mr. Noor and his partner were sent to the area. Testimony at Mr. Noor’s trial suggested that Ms. Ruszczyk, who was unarmed and wearing pajamas, went outside in the darkened alley to talk to the officers, and startled them. Mr. Noor, seated in his police cruiser, fired a single, fatal shot into her chest.
Mr. Noor’s defense lawyers asked for a sentence of just under three and a half years, at the low end of state guidelines, and described how their client had joined the police force seeking to build trust with fellow Somali Americans in the city.
Prosecutors requested a term of almost five years, which the judge issued. Mr. Noor has already spent about two and a half years in custody and will receive credit for that time.
During the hearing on Thursday, Don Damond, who was Ms. Ruszczyk’s fiance, spoke of her commitment to other people and her capacity for forgiveness.
“I have no doubt she would have forgiven you, Mohamed, for your inability to manage your own emotions that night, which resulted in you pulling that trigger,” Mr. Damond said on a video conference. “Justine was and is still my greatest teacher. Given her example, I want you to know that I forgive you, Mohamed. All I ask is that you use this experience to do good for other people.”
Mr. Noor said in court that he was “deeply grateful for Mr. Damond’s forgiveness” and “deeply sorry for the pain that I’ve caused that family.”
When jurors convicted Mr. Noor of murder in 2019, he became the first Minnesota police officer in decades to be found guilty in an on-duty fatal shooting. But a Minnesota Supreme Court opinion issued last month focused on the details of the “depraved mind” murder statute on which Mr. Noor was convicted, and found that his actions did not fit the definition of that crime because he was targeting a single person.
After Ms. Ruszczyk’s death, protesters gathered, the police chief resigned and Minneapolis officials promised to reform their police department.
Less than three years after that shooting, in 2020, another Minneapolis officer, Derek Chauvin, killed Mr. Floyd, setting off protests and unrest across the city and country. Mr. Chauvin was sentenced to more than 22 years in prison after being convicted this year of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The future of the Minneapolis Police Department remains an open question. Next month, city voters will decide whether to replace the agency with a Department of Public Safety that would have a different reporting structure and a focus on public health.