Institutional prejudice “heavily influenced” the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, the Somali American Police Association (SAPA) has claimed, after he was found guilty of murder over the shooting death of Australian woman Justine Damond Ruszczyk.
- The Somali-American Police Association said there were “other motives at play” in pursuing Noor’s conviction
- The decision to charge Noor was based on evidence, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said
- One juror said he respected the Somali community, but “no-one is above the law”
Following a long-running trial, the 33-year-old was yesterday found guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, but was acquitted of the more serious second-degree intentional murder charge.
It is the first time a police officer in Minnesota has been convicted over an on-duty shooting.
With no video of Noor shooting Ms Damond Ruszczyk and conflicting testimony about the moments leading up to her death, some activists and community leaders have said race was a factor in the case from the start.
In a statement issued after the verdict was delivered, the Somali American Police Association — which previously labelled the charges against Noor “baseless” and “racially motivated” — said there were “other motives at play” in securing his conviction.
Facebook: Somali American Police Association
“SAPA believes the institutional prejudices against people of colour, including officers of colour, have heavily influenced the verdict of this case,” the statement said.
“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.”
When Noor testified, he spoke of his early years in Somalia and time in a refugee camp before travelling to the United States.
His hiring in 2015 was celebrated by Minneapolis leaders eager to diversify the police force in a city that is 64 per cent white.
“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 said.
“[We] fear the outcome of this case will have a devastating effect on police morale and make the recruitment of minority officers all the more difficult.”
‘No-one is above the law’
Minneapolis’s top prosecutor said he stood by the case his team put forward.
“We look at each case based on the facts and the evidence and the law that’s in front of us,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman told reporters immediately after the verdict.
“And I will stand by what we have done.”
When asked how Noor’s case was different from fatal police shootings in which he did not file charges, Mr Freeman said: “The evidence showed that the officer acted unreasonably.”
Police officers in the United States are rarely charged in on-duty shootings, much less convicted.
A database published by the Washington Post shows that since the start of 2015, US police officers have shot and killed between 900 to 1,000 people each year.
Since 2005, only 101 non-federal officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter in an on-duty shooting, according to data compiled by Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University.
Some of those prosecutions are pending, but to date, only 36 officers have been convicted — often for lesser offenses.
In Minnesota, only one other officer has been charged in a fatal shooting in recent history.
Jeronimo Yanez, a suburban Latino officer, was acquitted of manslaughter in the 2016 death of black motorist Philando Castile.
Investigation into Justine Damond Ruszczyk’s murder
Jurors in Noor’s case were questioned about their views toward Somalis before being selected. Half of the 12 jurors were people of colour, including immigrants.
One juror, who spoke to a local television network on the condition that his name not be published, said he respected the Somali community and Noor seemed like a “good guy” and a “good police officer”.
“But we determined he committed a crime and in the end, no-one is above the law,” the juror said.
“It was two seconds’ time, he made a bad mistake, and even if you have a split-second decision, you’re still responsible for the decisions you make.”
Noor, who was fired from the police force after being charged, is scheduled to be sentenced June 7.