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Can prosecutors get a conviction in case against Mohamed Noor?

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Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman addresses the media
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman addresses the media during a press conference inside the Hennepin County Government Center on Tuesday, March 20, 2018.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Twice Tuesday, Hennepin County Prosecutor Michael Freeman referenced an Ohio researcher who keeps the nation's largest database of what happens to cops charged in on-duty killings of civilians.

But Freeman didn't mention that his office had quizzed the criminologist about his 13-year study showing just how rare it is that prosecutors win conviction in those cases.

Philip Stinson, an associate professor of criminology at Bowling Green State University, has been tracking the court outcomes since 2005. The data shows that it is tough for prosecutors to win convictions when on-duty cops are charged with murder or manslaughter in the killings. 

Freeman's reference came during a press conference announcing felony third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges against Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor in the July 2017 shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk. She was fatally shot after calling 911.

"I watched the press conference. I thought it was fascinating," Stinson said Tuesday evening. "He knows damn well it's going to be tough. He knows this case is not going to be a slam dunk."

Citing Stinson's research, Freeman acknowledged the difficult task ahead of his prosecutors.

According to Stinson's research, only two officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter in Minnesota, including Noor. A Ramsey County jury acquitted St. Anthony officer Jeronimo Yanez of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile during a 2016 traffic stop in  Falcon Heights.

Nationally, Stinson's research through Tuesday shows that 85 on-duty officers have been charged with either murder or manslaughter since 2015. In 41, officers were acquitted. Twelve cases, including Tuesday's against Noor, are pending. 

In the remaining, 32 officers were convicted. But in only one case, an officer was ultimately convicted of murder. 

In the other cases, officers were convicted of lesser crimes:

• 11 were convicted of manslaughter;

• four convicted of voluntary manslaughter;

• six convicted of involuntary manslaughter;

• two convicted of official misconduct;

• one convicted of reckless homicide;

• one convicted of negligent homicide;

• five convicted of deprivation of federal civil rights;

• one convicted of attempted deadly conduct.

Noor's lawyer Tom Plunkett called the shooting a tragedy but said his client "should not have been charged with any crime" and that the facts would show Noor "acted as he has been trained and consistent with established departmental policy."

Noor, who is no longer employed as a Minneapolis police officer as of Tuesday, remains jailed in Hennepin County awaiting his first hearing in the case.

Stinson applauded Freeman's office for reaching out about his research but declined to elaborate on the specifics of the conversations. 

He did say it has only been recently that prosecutors have started calling him about his work. 

"As I listened to the press conference, I can tell a lot of background went into this case," Stinson said. "I think he charged because he knew it was the right thing to do."