MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - A Hennepin County District Court judge sentenced former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor to 12.5 years in prison for fatally shooting Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a south Minneapolis resident and Australian native. Noor will be eligible for release after serving two-thirds of his sentence.
"While he is clearly saddened by Miss Ruszczyk’s death, he does not take personal responsibility for making an erroneous decision to fire a gun at her," said Judge Kathryn Quaintance. "He has not acknowledged that he could have handled the situation any other way."
In April, a jury convicted Noor of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the 2017 fatal shooting. According to court documents, Damond had reported a possible sexual assault to police. The shooting happened when Damond approached the police squad car on the driver's side. Noor, who was in the passenger seat, shot her. She was unarmed.
Before he received his sentence Friday, Noor read a prepared letter in which expressed his remorse and apologized for the pain he caused for the Ruszczyk family and friends.
"The moment I pulled the trigger, I felt fear," said Noor. When I walked around, I saw Miss Ruszczyk dying on the ground, I felt horror. Seeing her there I knew in an instant I was wrong."
Throughout the trial, Noor repeatedly testified he "had to make a split-second decision to protect [his] partner.” He again reiterated that in his statement, while acknowledging the irreversible damage of his actions.
"I shot because I was protecting my partner Matthew Harrity's life," said Noor. "I realized after I was wrong. That mistake is my hardship to bear. The loss I created is a hardship to bear. I can't apologize enough, and I will never be able to make up the loss that I caused on Miss Ruszczyk’s family."
Justine's loved ones, including her fiance Don Damond, gave victim impact statements. The two had planned to marry just weeks after the shooting happened. In his words to the court, Damond addressed part of his statement directly to her.
"I saw your wedding dress for first time a week after you died," said Damond. "I got to touch it as I cried."
He discussed the pain and loss he struggled with in the two years following her death.
"I’m so sorry I had to sell our house which contained all those memories," said Don Damond. "Every time I went down that alley, I saw you walking in your pjs, walking toward that police car, toward that unexpected and violent death."
The night of the shooting, Justine heard a possible sexual assault. In a phone call, Don Damond had encouraged her to contact the police.
"It was at my direction you summoned your own death," said Don Damond. "I have to live with that for the rest of my life."
Bob Bennett, the civil attorney for Justine Damond's parents in Australia, read a statement on their behalf. They both called for the maximum penalty. A memorial video was also played in court.
Under sentencing guidelines, Noor faced up to 15 years in prison. In a court filing, his defense team argued for a much shorter sentence due to his lack of a criminal history and impact on the community. They called for a stayed sentence in which he would serve some time in a workhouse or a durational departure for a prison sentence of one year and one day. The defense also filed 44 letters written in support of Noor. Thursday night, supporters of Noor held a rally as part of a "grassroots effort to seek justice for all citizens." However, at the sentencing Judge Quaintance noted the law does not discriminate.
"The law does not allow lenience because somebody is a good person," said Judge Quaintance. "It is not the job of the court to make a decision whether a convicted person is a good person. Good people sometimes do bad things."
Since the trial, the Ruszczyk family settled a lawsuit with City of Minneapolis for $20 million, making it the largest settlement involving the Minneapolis Police Department.
At 11:27 p.m. on July 15, 2017, Damond called 911 to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her house on the 5000 block of Washburn Avenue in Minneapolis’ Fulton neighborhood.
In his testimony, Justine’s fiancé, Don Damond, told the court that he had received a call from her a few minutes prior in which she told him she thought she could hear a woman possibly being sexually assaulted. He said he told her to call the police and stay put. That was the last time he heard from her.
At 11:35 p.m., Justine called 911 again and said no one had arrived and she was worried they got the address wrong.
According to the charges, Noor and his partner, Matthew Harrity, entered the alley on 50th Street in their squad car at 11:37 p.m. Harrity was driving.
They neared the end of the alley at 11:39 p.m. Noor entered “Code 4” into the squad computer, which meant the officers were safe and needed no assistance.
A few seconds later, Harrity reportedly heard a thump on the back of the squad car, which startled the officers. The “thump” was disputed by prosecutors. Harrity testified that he was reaching for his gun when Noor reached across him and fired a shot through the open driver’s side window.
Noor fatally shot Justine at 11:40 p.m.—13 minutes after the first 911 call.
Harrity got out of the squad and helped guide Justine to the ground. The officers attempted to provide aid to her, but she died at the scene.
The officers were wearing body cameras, but did not turn them on until after the shooting. Jurors watched Harrity's body camera footage earlier in the trial, which shows Justine taking her final breaths.
Evidence released following the verdict showed the confusion in the moments after the shooting.
Mohamed Noor's defense attorney Tom Plunkett released the following statement:
We are disappointed with the Court’s decision to send Mohamed Noor to prison for 150 months. The tragedy surrounding this case has only deepened. We have concerns with the process that will need to be addressed. We are not done fighting for Mohamed Noor.