A Minneapolis jury found former police officer Mohamed Noor guilty on third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges in the 2017 killing of Justine Ruszczyk, reports Minnesota Public Radio. Jurors found him not guilty on the charge of second-degree murder in 11 hours of deliberations after a trial that lasted more than three weeks. It was the second time in Minnesota that an officer was charged with killing someone while on duty, and is believed to be the first such conviction. Officer Jeronimo Yanez was found not guilty in the 2016 fatal shooting of Philando Castile. Nationally, it’s rare for an officer to face charges in an on-duty killing, and a conviction is nearly unheard of.
Ruszczyk called police twice on the evening of July 15, 2017, first to report a possible assault, then to see where officers were. When they arrived on the scene, Noor and his partner Matthew Harrity drove down an alley with their squad car’s lights down. They drove slowly and quietly. Harrity testified that he heard a “thump” and a “murmur.” Ruszczyk approached the officers on their vehicle’s driver’s side. Noor fired, and Ruszczyk was pronounced dead on the scene. The case hinged on whether Ruszczyk posed a deadly threat. Noor testified that he fired to protect Harrity. Prosecutors argued that Ruszczyk couldn’t have been considered a threat while approaching the police vehicle unarmed, in her pink pajamas. Noor’s defense team argued that there was a thump on the squad car followed by a figure with its arm raised appearing outside the driver’s side door, which they argued posed a threat. The Ruszczyk family may continue with its lawsuit against Noor, Harrity, and the city. There’s still “huge civil liability here,” said University of Minnesota law Prof. JaneAnne Murray.