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Somali-American police group says Noor has been treated differently

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Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor leaves jail
Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor leaves the Hennepin County jail after posting bail Wednesday night, March 21, 2018, flanked by his attorney, Thomas Plunkett (left) and news reporters.
Courtesy KARE-TV

Just a few days after former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk last July, then-Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau described Noor's decision to shoot as the "actions of one individual," distancing the department from the officer's actions.

It was an unusual move for a police chief to criticize one of her own.

Somali-American officers took note of the department's response — and, later, of the responses from the police union and the prosecutor's office. 

"We don't feel that officer Noor was treated the same way as other officers were treated that were in similar situation as him," Waheid Siraach, spokesperson for the Somali-American Police Association, said Friday, just days after Noor, who was a member of the association, was charged in the case.

For days after the shooting, Lt. Bob Kroll, the president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, the union that represents more than 800 rank-and-file officers, remained silent.

It was an unusual move for a union president who rarely hesitates to defend officers accused of misconduct.   

In December, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman was caught on video talking about the case after the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension handed their investigation over to him.

"Trust me," he told a group of union members during the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation's holiday reception, "nobody wants it done for Christmas more than me. That's ... that's the big present I'd like to see under the Christmas tree."

Freeman's remarks in the video came after one of the activists at the holiday reception asked him why he hadn't yet announced charges in the case against Noor.

"I've got to have the evidence and I don't have it yet. And let me just say, it's not my fault," Freeman said in the video. "So if it isn't my fault, who didn't do their jobs? ... Investigators, and they don't work for me. And they haven't done their job."

It was unusual for a top prosecutor to speak so publicly about an ongoing investigation.

Noor's fellow Somali-American police officers took note, again.

"We believe the way this case was handled and [is] still being handled by both Minneapolis top leadership and Freeman's office certainly raises questions of whether race played a factor in this case," Siraach said. "They started making comments about this case long before the investigation started, during the investigation, and even after the investigation."

On Tuesday, Freeman announced that he is bringing third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges against Noor. The decision came nearly two months after the prosecutor convened a grand jury in the case, something Freeman had vowed in 2015 not to do in police shooting cases.

"The way in which this county attorney pursued this case is completely different because of the aggression and the ruthlessness in which he pursued and had gone after officer Noor," Siraach said. "Freeman, after the BCA investigations were completed and he did not like the work that the investigators did, he decided to convene a grand jury."

The Somali-American Police Association said police officers of Somali descent "believe that at bare minimum there's a double standard here."

He compared Noor's case to other recent police shootings in the Twin Cities. Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old black man, was fatally shot by a white Minneapolis police officer in 2015. And in 2016, Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black man, was fatally shot by a St. Anthony police officer of Mexican descent.

"The only difference between those shootings and this shooting is that the deceased person in this case happens to be a white woman and the officer involved in this case happens to be a black officer," he said. "Not only that, he's also a Muslim and he's a Somali. We feel that there might be some other motivations here by the Hennepin County Attorney's Office."

A spokesperson from the Hennepin County Attorney's Office said Friday they won't comment because the case is ongoing.

Minneapolis Police spokesperson John Elder said he's "saddened that [the association] would believe that this is racially motivated."

Kroll, the police union president, did not return a call for comment.

The Somali-American Police Association, which was established in 2012 by five Minnesota officers, now has 36 members nationwide. Of those, seven are current officers with the Minneapolis Police Department. 

Siraach said he fears the way the case unfolds could have implications on the recruitment of future Somali-Americans into police departments.

"I'm already getting calls from young men and women that I know of that are in college, studying law enforcement and they are very concerned about what's happening to Officer Noor," he said. "Some of them even said that they are not sure whether they want to continue to pursue in this path or not."