Jury Convicts Ex-Minnesota Officer of Murder in Shooting of Unarmed Woman

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on May 01, 2019

Former Minneapolis Police officer Mohamed Noor was convicted of murder in the shooting of an unarmed Australian woman, Justine Ruszczyk, in 2017. Ruszczyk had called 911 about a possible sexual assault near her home, and Noor admitted to shooting Ruszczyk as she approached his car when he and his partner responded to the scene. "I fired one shot," Noor testified during his trial. "The threat was gone. She could have had a weapon."

Noor is the first police officer in Minnesota to be convicted of murder after an on-duty shooting. And while many have called for more accountability for cops who kill unarmed civilians, the details of this case raise interesting questions about policing, race, and justice.

Officers and Citizens

Noor's conviction stands in stark contrast to the acquittal of former St. Anthony, Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez. Yanez shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop in 2016. Yanez pulled over Castile, whose girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her four-year-old daughter were also in the car. Castile was licensed to carry a weapon and told Yanez that he had a firearm, when he was asked for his license and registration, leading to this exchange:

Yanez said, "Okay, don't reach for it, then ... don't pull it out." Castile responded, "I'm not pulling it out," and Reynolds also said, "He's not pulling it out." Yanez repeated, raising his voice, "Don't pull it out!" as he quickly pulled his own gun with his right hand and reached inside the driver's window with his left hand. Reynolds screamed, "No!" Yanez removed his left arm from the car and fired seven shots in the direction of Castile in rapid succession.

Yanez was charged with second degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm, but acquitted. It was the first time an officer had even been charged for a fatal shooting in Minnesota.

Defendants and Victims

In many people's view, the Castile shooting made an easier case for prosecution. The entire incident was captured on dash cameras from Yanez's patrol car, and Reynolds streamed the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook live. There was no such video in Ruszczyk's case. But other differences have raised racial justice questions. Noor is Somali-American, and shot and killed a white woman. Castile was black. Numerous studies on capital crimes have determined that a defendant's race matters little when it comes to whether a homicide results in a death sentence, but that the race of the victim is "a significant predictor of whether a jury decides to impose a death sentence."

A jury ultimately found Noor guilty on third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, and Hennepin County District Judge Kathryn Quaintance set his sentencing for June 7.

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