Supporters of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor — including friends, relatives, cops and a sitting state legislator — recall the times that he drove them safely home after a snowstorm or taught young people soccer.
Over a span of 44 letters filed in court Wednesday, they asked the judge presiding over his case to consider Noor's contributions to the community when sentencing him Friday on third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter convictions. Defense attorneys cited the letters in asking the court to sentence Noor to probation.
In April, Noor became the first Minnesota police officer to be convicted of murder for killing someone while on duty. He shot and killed 911 caller Justine Ruszczyk in July 2017 after she reported what she thought was an assault in the alley behind her home.
Defense attorneys are asking Judge Kathryn Quaintance to depart from the presumptive sentence of about 12.5 years and sentence him to probation. They argue that the court should take into account his cooperation, age, conduct in court and support of friends and family.
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"A prison sentence would not be best for Mr. Noor and society," defense attorneys wrote in the filing. "Mr. Noor is a young man who came to this country in his early childhood years and has worked continuously to be a good citizen and a person that gives back to the community."
Noor's former supervisor when he was stationed in the Minneapolis Police Department's 5th Precinct, Lt. Dan May, also wrote the court on Noor's behalf. As an officer who was also involved in a fatal shooting, May said he understands the emotional and physical suffering it can cause for an officer, which May described as "punitive." In 1990, May shot 17-year-old Tycel Nelson; a grand jury later cleared him of criminal charges.
May said that he was in constant communication with Noor between the July 2017 shooting and his trial.
"We never spoke once about the details of the shooting, but we spoke at lengths about the anguish he feels for causing the Damond family so much pain," May wrote. "We also spoke of how much Mo and his family have suffered since the Damond incident as well."
Noor's attorneys also ask the judge to order him to turn himself in at the workhouse for a week on the dates of Ruszczyk's birth and her death every year for as long as he's on probation: "This sentence honors the memory of Ms. Ruszczyk and allows Mr. Noor to continue to serve the city."
As an alternative to probation, Noor's attorneys recommend that he be sentenced to one year and one day.
Among those advocating for Noor in Wednesday's filings is his ex-wife Salma Hussein. She wrote in a letter filed in Hennepin County District Court on Wednesday that "it is not in his character to be aggressive or irresponsible," and that he joined the police force to help people, especially Somali youth.
Others wrote to Quaintance about Noor's commitment to working with the community. David Oehlke, who said he worked with Noor when they both worked at the Red Roof Inn. Oehlke noted how unusual it was that there was a friendship between a "42-year-old white Christian man" and a "19-year-old Somali Muslim," but said they shared a belief in a creator and afterlife.
"He has a very strong faith and his relationship to God is very important," Oehlke wrote of Noor. "Mohamed is not a person who is a danger to society, in fact, quite the contrary, he has the ability and talent to help society."
DFL state Rep. Hodan Hassan, who represents parts of south Minneapolis, cited Noor's involvement with the community. She asked the judge to consider "Noor as a father, a sibling, a husband and a wonderful community member who have been a fine example of what a productive member of society looks like."
Ahmed Ismail, executive director of the West Bank Athletic Club, wrote that Noor volunteered to work with young people in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, and that Noor encouraged youth to learn about "collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking." Ismail said Noor has a "track record of giving to the people around him and making a difference by being present in the community."
Some family members and others who know him also questioned the impact of a long sentence for Noor, arguing that it could complicate police recruitment efforts in the Somali American community.
Noor is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday morning. Prosecutors have not yet filed their recommendations for his sentence.