Updated 11:25 a.m.
A Hennepin County judge on Thursday resentenced ex-Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor to nearly five years in prison, the maximum allowed for second-degree manslaughter, for the 2017 killing of 911 caller Justine Ruszczyk after the Minnesota Supreme Court last month overturned his murder conviction.
With time already served, Noor, 36, is expected to be released from prison on June 27 next year. The manslaughter charge carried a much lower presumptive sentence than the 12 1/2 years he initially received for killing Ruszczyk.
The 40-year-old Minneapolis woman called 911 to report she heard someone screaming and believed an assault was happening. When Ruszczyk appeared at the police vehicle’s window, Noor shot her.
The new sentence came after the court heard victim impact statements from Ruszczyk’s family members and arguments from prosecutors and Noor’s lawyers. In a statement read to the court, the family wrote “our sorrow is forever” and urged the judge to impose the stiffest possible penalty, saying the jury that convicted Noor believed the officer committed murder.
“The truth is that Justine should be alive,” Don Damond, Ruszczyk’s fiance, told the court by video conference. “No amount of justification, embellishment, coverup, dishonesty or politics will ever change that truth.”
Speaking to Noor, Damond added: “I have no doubt she would have forgiven you, Mohamed, for your inability to manage your emotions that night."
In asking for a 57-month sentence, prosecutor Amy Sweasy told the court this case is more serious than other manslaughter cases because Noor "wore the badge." Ruszczyk, she added, “did nothing to bring about the circumstances of her own death.”
In a brief statement to the court before the sentence, Noor apologized again for the pain he’d caused Ruszczyk’s family and said he was grateful for Damond’s statement of forgiveness. “I will take his advice and be a unifier,” he said.
‘Protect and serve’
Noor’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, had sought a sentence for Noor of 41 months, which along with time served could have led faster to Noor’s supervised release. On Thursday, he described the killing as a “horrible mistake, but not an act motivated by cruelty or distaste for human life.”
Plunkett also argued in a court brief that Noor should be sentenced at the low end of the guidelines partly because of the “harsh conditions” he experienced while held in prison segregation and that he’s been a “model prisoner.” Noor has spent most of his time at a correctional facility out of state.
Judge Kathryn Quaintance, however, said a harsher sentence was justified because Noor endangered his partner, a bicyclist and other residents nearby that night when he fired out the window of his squad, across the body of his partner who was driving, shooting Ruszczyk.
Quaintance also cited her comments from Noor's first sentencing in 2019, reading the concerns jurors expressed to her then about the culture of policing, the lack of accountability, and the Minneapolis Police Department, asking what was going to change.
Jurors then, she noted, “remarked the priority of the police was supposed to be protect and serve the public.”
At Noor’s previous sentencing, he apologized to Ruszczyk’s family for taking her life. Her fiance, Damond, told the court in his victim impact statement that the day she was killed was the last time he felt “happiness, a sense of trust and that everything could be OK.” Ruszczyk’s father, John Ruszczyk, said he would never feel whole again and asked that Noor be given the maximum sentence.
Ruszczyk, who was also known as Justine Damond, called 911 on July 15, 2017 to report she’d heard a possible assault happening outside her home in the city’s Fulton neighborhood southwest of Lake Harriet. Noor and his partner Matthew Harrity responded to the call, driving through the alley with their headlights off.
Harrity and Noor testified that they were about to leave the alley when they heard what sounded like a thump on the squad. Noor, who was in the passenger seat, testified that he saw a blonde woman in a pink shirt and feared for his and Harrity’s life. He fired once, hitting Ruszczyk in the abdomen. She died at the scene.
Neither officer activated body-worn cameras until after the shooting.
The video from Noor, Harrity and other officers show a chaotic scene as firefighters and paramedics tried to save Ruszczyk’s life. Officers repeatedly switched off body cameras, including the sergeant overseeing the crime scene while interacting with Noor in what she told the court was a “private conversation.”
Ruszczyk’s killing sparked protests in the Twin Cities and outrage in her native Australia. It also led to the resignation of police Chief Janeé Harteau. The family later reached a $20 million civil settlement with the city of Minneapolis in Ruszczyk’s killing.
Minnesota justices tossed 3rd-degree murder conviction
Thursday’s resentencing was needed after the Minnesota Supreme Court in September threw out Noor’s third-degree murder conviction, saying the evidence was “insufficient” to maintain it.
In appealing the murder conviction, his attorneys had focused on language in the rarely used statute that speaks of “perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life.”
The charge is often used against drug dealers in overdose deaths where the defendant didn't single out a particular victim.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld Noor's conviction, ruling that the third-degree murder charge applied even though Noor fired his gun at a specific person.
The Minnesota justices, however, said “the mental state necessary for depraved-mind murder … is a generalized indifference to human life,” which the court said did not exist in this instance.
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