by Sandy Malone and Christopher Berg
Minneapolis, MN – After the murder conviction of former-officer Mohammed Noor for the shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, activists are claiming that the prosecution was racially motivated.
“Officer Noor was going to jail no matter what because he’s a black man who shot a white woman in the state of Minnesota,” an activist told the Associated Press.
Activist Alana Ramadan went further and was seen holding a sign calling for the resignation of the prosecutor over the conviction.
“It’s almost like there’s no hope,” she told the AP.
When asked about race playing a role in the case, the prosecutor denied the allegations.
“That simply is not true,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman responded. “Race has never been a factor in any of my decisions and never will be. … We look at each case based on the facts and the evidence and the law that’s in front of us. And I will stand by what we have done.”
When asked how he could prosecute a black officer after refusing to charge white officers in the past, Freeman responded that the evidence showed that the shooting of Damond was actually not legally justified; the shootings that weren't charged were legally justified.
“The evidence showed that [Noor] acted unreasonably,” he said. Objective reasonableness is the standard used to determine if a use of force is legally justified.
The month-long trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor ended on Monday afternoon, when the jury began deliberations after hearing three weeks of testimony about how the officer fatally shot Damond on July 15, 2017, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
The jury returned the guilty verdicts Tuesday evening, finding Noor guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter
Noor was taken into custody immediately after the verdict was read and his sentencing is scheduled for June 7, KMSP reported.
The jury found that Noor did not act with intent to kill, but instead acted recklessly with a "depraved" mind and no intent to kill.
The now-infamous shooting of an Australian woman who called police to report a suspected crime in the alley behind her house occurred when 32-year-old Officer Noor and his partner, Officer Matthew Harrity, responded to Damond’s 911 call, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.
With Officer Noor in the passenger seat, Officer Harrity pulled into the alleyway behind Damond’s house with the patrol car’s headlights deactivated, and removed the safety hood from the holster of his duty weapon.
He said that he heard a dog barking as he neared Damond’s home, and that he slowed the vehicle to two miles per hour, but never stopped.
Approximately two minutes later, the officers approached the end of the alley, and waited for a bicyclist to pass as they cleared from the call.
Officer Harrity said that moments later, he heard a voice and a thump towards the rear of the patrol car, and then “caught a glimpse of a person’s head and shoulder’s outside his window.”
He said that the person, later identified as Damond, was approximately two feet away, and that he could not see her hands, and did not know if she had any weapons.
The startled officer recalled having said, “Oh s**t,” or “Oh Jesus,” and grabbed for his duty weapon, believing his life was in danger. He said he drew the weapon and held it to his rib cage, pointed downwards.
Officer Harrity said that he then heard a noise “that sounded like a light bulb dropping on the floor, and saw a flash.”
After checking to see if he had been shot, Officer Harrity said he realized that Officer Noor’s right arm was extended towards him, and that Damond was standing outside the driver’s side window with her hands on the left side of her abdomen, covering a gunshot wound.
She said, “‘I’m dying,’ or ‘I’m dead,’” according to the court documents.
Officer Harrity rushed to her aid, and told Officer Noor to re-holster his weapon and to activate his bodycam.
He initiated CPR, and Officer Noor eventually took over. Damond died at the scene.
At trial, Officer Noor claimed he had no other choice but to shoot Damond, and that he did not need to wait to see a weapon in order to respond with deadly force.
Officers can use deadly force before they see a weapon, but only if a reasonable officer in that same situation would have believed that the suspect posed a deadly threat.
Noor offered no reasonable explanation for why he thought Damond was a threat at all.
Officer Harrity testified at trial that he was also spooked by the loud noise, but use of deadly force was premature.
Minneapolis Police Lieutenant Richard Zimmerman testified that he was confused by the sight of a barefoot woman covered by a sheet, with no weapon nearby, when he arrived in the alley where the incident occurred, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.
“I didn’t see anything, and my first thought, frankly, was, ‘What the [expletive]? Why isn’t there something here?’” Lt. Zimmerman testified. “You’re looking for things that add up.”
The defense has argued that the lighting in the alley was bad and that the officers could not clearly see Damond, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.
But Lt. Zimmerman said that he could clearly see and that there was a streetlight next to the scene that illuminated both the police car and Damond’s body.
“I could see the officers that were there. I could see the victim just like I’m looking at you right now,” he testified.
Officer Noor wasn’t charged in Damond’s death for almost nine months after the incident, a delay the county attorney blamed on investigators from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA).
“I’ve got to have the evidence, and I don’t have it yet … Let me just say it’s not my fault. So if it isn’t my fault, who didn’t do their job? Investigators. They don’t work for me. They haven’t done their job,” Freeman said, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Freeman neglected to explain what investigators actually failed to do. The case hinged on Freeman being able to prove that Officer Noor acted unreasonably, which is not something decided by investigators.
Freeman’s blame was quickly addressed by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, who publicly defended the BCA, calling Freeman’s claims “destructive.”
“The BCA is asked to investigate some of the toughest, most complex cases involving officer-involved shootings,” the governor said in a statement, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “I have the utmost confidence in their professionalism, integrity, and thoroughness. Impugning the quality of their investigations is destructive, and detrimental in our efforts to seek and obtain justice.”
Damond’s death also led to the ouster of Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau, who defended Officer Noor’s training following the shooting, the Chicago Times reported.
Chief Harteau was on vacation when the incident occurred, and did not publicly address the issue for several days.
Soon thereafter, Mayor Betsy Hodges said she had lost confidence in Chief Harteau, and replaced her with Chief Medaria Arradondo.
During trial, it was revealed that then-Officer Noor’s field training officers and two psychiatrists had raised concerns about his fitness to serve the community for more than two years before he shot Damond.