Officer who shot Australian woman felt called to police work
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed an Australian woman in an alley shortly after she called 911 to report a possible crime is a young Somali-American and father who felt called to work in law enforcement after getting a college degree in business.
Mohamed Noor, 32, joined the police force two years ago and is among more Somalis hired in recent years as the department continues its efforts to diversify. To those in Minnesota's Somali community, the largest in the United States, he was seen as a role model, and his hiring was celebrated.
"Among police, he was one of the good guys," said Suud Olat, a refugee advocate and interpreter.
But Noor is now on paid administrative leave as authorities investigate why he shot and killed 40-year-old Justine Damond, a meditation teacher and bride-to-be. Damond's fiancé said she called 911 on Saturday night about what she believed was an active sexual assault. She was reportedly standing outside the driver's side of a squad car when she was shot in the abdomen by Noor, who fired from the passenger seat.
Authorities have released no details about what led Noor to shoot Damond, whose maiden name was Justine Ruszczyk. She had begun using her fiance's last name ahead of their August wedding.
No weapon was found at the scene. Noor and the other officer did not turn on their body cameras, and authorities have said squad video did not capture the shooting.
Noor's attorney, Tom Plunkett, released a statement Monday saying that Noor extends his condolences to the family and others affected by Damond's death. The statement said Noor came to the U.S. at a young age and is thankful to have had many opportunities.
"He takes these events very seriously because, for him, being a police officer is a calling," the statement said. "He joined the police force to serve the community and to protect the people he serves."
The statement described Noor as "a caring person with a family he loves, and he empathizes with the loss others are experiencing."
Plunkett did not reply to a request for an interview Tuesday. Authorities released no additional information about the case.
Noor joined the police department in March 2015, and his assignment to a Minneapolis neighborhood was publicized by city leaders and the Somali community. Mayor Betsy Hodges recognized him in a Facebook post last year, noting that his arrival in the 5th Precinct was celebrated. Hodges posted pictures from a community event to welcome Noor. She called it "a wonderful sign of building trust and community policing at work."
A city newsletter said hundreds of people attended that event. The newsletter said Noor has a degree in economics and business administration from Augsburg College. Before becoming a police officer, he worked in commercial and residential property management in Minneapolis and in the St. Louis area.
But Noor's short time on the force has not been without blemish.
Records from the city's Office of Police Conduct Review show he has had three complaints against him. Two are pending, and the third was dismissed without discipline. Under state law, details of open cases and cases that result in no discipline are not released.
Noor was also sued earlier this year after a May 25 incident in which he and other officers took a woman to the hospital for an apparent mental health crisis. The lawsuit claims Noor and other officers violated the woman's rights when they entered her home without permission and Noor grabbed her wrist and upper arm. The lawsuit, which is pending, said Noor relaxed his grip when the woman said she had a previous shoulder injury.
Noor also battled for custody of his son, born in 2010. According to family court records, Noor and his son's mother met in college and never legally married. They split up when the boy was 3, but the two continued to share responsibilities and — as best they could — time.
Noor's job as a police officer did not give him a consistent work schedule, but he said in court documents that he made every effort to be with his son when he wasn't working. In 2015, the boy's mother tried to take him to New Jersey, and the legal battle over custody intensified. Noor said in an affidavit that his son was important to him and he did not want the boy to move.
An evaluator in the case observed Noor had a warm, loving relationship with his son and was patient as the two built Legos together.
In the end, the court sided with Noor, determining it was in the boy's best interest to be in Minnesota, where he had spent his whole life and was surrounded by extended family and the larger Somali community.
Many Somali community members who spoke to The Associated Press were mourning over Damond's death, but the talk at local coffee shops turned to confusion and conflicting feelings about Noor's involvement. Some said that it felt like the whole community was being judged, as hateful speech circulated on social media.
"While we were mourning the death of this beautiful woman who was getting married next month, and talking about her, we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of it," said Abdirizak Bihi, a Somali community advocate in Minneapolis.
Mohamud Noor, a community advocate who is not related to Officer Noor, said the officer should be treated just like any other in this situation.
Having Somali police officers is important to the community, and the officers are emulated by many, said Noor, who has met the officer but does not know him well.
"That's very important. Me, myself, I would love to see a Somali police officer pull me over, ask me what's wrong with my car," he said. "That makes us feel like we're home, and we're Americans."