Mohamed Noor, the Minneapolis police officer who is accused of shooting and killing Justine Damond, an Australian yoga teacher and spiritual healer, was the first Somali-American officer in his precinct.
A year ago, the arrival of Noor on the Minnesota police force was celebrated by the mayor and Somali community he hails from. There is a pending federal complaint against him, though, by a former social worker from Minneapolis who says Noor and other officers violated her constitutional rights in March by ordering her detention at a hospital after she called 911 to report a drug crime and other issues. You can read that complaint later in this story.
Damond was shot in the abdomen and killed while wearing her pajamas after she approached a police cruiser containing Noor and another officer, Matthew Harrity. Noor, who was in the passenger seat, is accusing of shooting Damond through the driver’s side window. Damond had called 911 to report a possible assault in an alley behind her home on July 15, reports The Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
The shooting death has caused outrage in both Australia and Minnesota, where Damond, who also went by the name Justine Ruszczyk, was a beloved teacher of meditation who held betterment workshops and was supposed to be married in August.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is demanding answers in Damond’s shooting, calling it “inexplicable” and referencing the fact that Damond had called 911 herself to report a possible crime in the alley behind her house.
“How can a woman out in the street in her pyjamas seeking assistance from the police be shot like that?” Turnbull asked, according to ABC Australia. “It is a shocking killing, it is inexplicable.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Noor Shot a Pajama-Clad Damond Through the Window of a Police Cruiser, Reports Allege & Came to the U.S. at a Young Age
Authorities have been very vague and tight-lipped on the shooting, saying that it’s under investigation.
However, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune newspaper has reported, through three sources, that Damond, 40, was in her pajamas when shot and was speaking to Noor’s partner at the time through the window of a police car in which Noor was allegedly a passenger.
“Three sources with knowledge of the incident said Sunday that two officers in one squad car, responding to the 911 call, pulled into the alley. Damond, in her pajamas, went to the driver’s side door and was talking to the driver. The officer in the passenger seat pulled his gun and shot Damond through the driver’s side door, sources confirmed. No weapon was found at the scene,” the Star Tribune reported.
CBS Minneapolis reports that Damond “made the 911 call and was speaking to police officers Saturday night. They were near the alley when the officer in the passenger seat reached across and shot her. A cell phone was found near Damond’s body.”
You can read transcripts of Justine’s two 911 calls to police here. They show that Justine told a dispatcher she thought she heard a woman screaming for help and feared the woman was being raped. She called back a second time to make sure police were coming and, both times, the dispatcher assured Justine that “help” was on the way.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is investigating the shooting, released its most detailed accounting of it yet on July 18. BCA identified Justine Damond as Justine Ruszczyk; Damond was the name she used professionally.
“BCA agents interviewed Officer Harrity earlier today,” BCA wrote on July 18. “Officer Noor has declined to be interviewed by BCA agents at this time. Officer Noor’s attorney did not provide clarification on when, if ever, an interview would be possible.”
According to the BCA’s preliminary investigation, “officers Harrity and Noor responded to a 911 call from a woman now identified as Ruszczyk of a possible assault near her residence just after 11:30 p.m. Saturday. Officer Harrity was driving. Officer Noor was in the passenger seat. The officers drove south through the alley between Washburn and Xerxes avenues toward West 51st Street in search of a suspect. All squad lights were off.”
As they reached West 51st Street, continued BCA, “Officer Harrity indicated that he was startled by a loud sound near the squad. Immediately afterward Ruszczyk approached the driver’s side window of the squad. Harrity indicated that Officer Noor discharged his weapon, striking Ruszczyk through the open driver’s side window. The officers immediately exited the squad and provided medical attention until medical personnel arrived. Ruszczyk was pronounced dead at the scene. Both officers have been placed on standard administrative leave.”
Officer Harrity told investigators “that the officers saw an 18-25 year old white male who was bicycling eastbound on West 51st Street immediately before the shooting. This individual stopped at the scene and watched as the officers provided medical assistance to Ruszczyk. BCA agents would like to speak with this person, and anyone else who may have witnessed the incident. These individuals are asked to contact the BCA at 651-793-7000.”
Crime scene personnel recovered a cell phone near the victim, BCA reported, adding, “No weapons were recovered.”
“Body cameras were not turned on until after the shooting incident. The squad camera was not turned on. Investigators are aware of no video or audio of the shooting. The BCA’s investigation does not determine whether a law enforcement agency policy was violated. That would be reviewed through the agency’s internal affairs process,” continued the BCA.
It’s not clear what the “loud sound” was that Harrity reported hearing outside the squad right before the shooting, but dispatch audio did capture a report of “aerial fireworks” in the area.
Dispatch audio shows that there was a report of a female “behind the building.” Then, a report of “shots fired” and “one down.” The audio references that the sound of what may have been aerial fireworks in the area was also heard.
Noor’s partner was allegedly “stunned” when Noor opened fire, KARE11 reported through a source.
Noor’s attorney, Tom Plunkett, released a statement to the news media. It said that Noor came to the United States “at a young age” and that police work is a calling to him:
Officer Noor extends his condolences to the family and anyone else who has been touched by this event. He takes their loss seriously and keeps them in his daily thoughts and prayers. He came to the United States at a young age and is thankful to have had so many opportunities. He takes these events very seriously because, for him, being a police officer is a calling. He joined the police force to serve the community and to protect the people he serves. Officer Noor is a caring person with a family he loves and he empathizes with the loss others are experiencing.
The current environment for police is difficult, but Officer Noor accepts this as part of his calling. We would like to say more, and will in the future. At this time, however, there are several investigations ongoing and Officer Noor wants to respect the privacy to the family and asks the same in return during this difficult period.
KTSP also reported some of the same details, adding that Damond was shot multiple times.
Family members said from the start that the Australian woman had called 911 herself to report a possible assault in an alley behind her home when the officers responded to the call. Her fiancee, Don Damond, said in a news conference that she had called to report a potential sexual assault..
Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau called Damond’s death “clearly tragic” in a statement.
“I want to acknowledge the pain and frustration that family and community members have following the fatal officer involved shooting on Saturday night. This is clearly a tragic death,” the police chief wrote.
“I also want to assure you that I understand why so many people have so many questions at this point. I have many of the same questions and it is why we immediately asked for an external and independent investigation into the officer-involved shooting death. I’ve asked for the investigation to be expedited to provide transparency and to answer as many questions as quickly as we can.” The state agency is handling the investigation.
2. The Mayor Recognized Noor’s Arrival on the Force, Where He Became the First Somali Officer in His Precinct
Mayor Betsy Hodges has been very vocal in expressing concern about the Damond shooting.
In 2016, though, she wrote a lengthy Facebook post that praised the hiring of Noor. A city newsletter said Noor was hired in March 2015 and “is Fifth Precinct’s first Somali-American Officer.” A welcoming event in his honor “was well attended with hundreds of people showing up to meet, congratulate, and welcome him to the precinct,” the newsletter said.
Hodges joined in that welcome.
“I want to take a moment to recognize Officer Mohamed Noor, the newest Somali officer in the Minneapolis Police Department,” she wrote.
“Officer Noor has been assigned to the 5th Precinct, where his arrival has been highly celebrated, particularly by the Somali community in and around Karmel Mall. The community even hosted a meet and greet event (see pics) to welcome him,” Hodges wrote. “A wonderful sign of building trust and community policing at work. Welcome Officer Noor and all of the new officers in their new precinct assignments across the City.”
At the time, one community member wrote on Facebook, “Somalis are taking the rightful place in the society and fully integrated. The newest Somali American Police in the Minneapolis PD, Officer Mohamed Noor…We are proud of our young law enforcement agents in our American Somali community. You have our support and we got your back.”
In 2015, the same year Noor was hired, the Minneapolis police force received national attention for its efforts to forge better ties with the Somali immigrant community.
Hodges has expressed great concern about Damond’s death.
She wrote on Facebook, “Tonight, I’m sad, and disturbed. This is a tragedy—for the family, for a neighborhood I know well, and for our whole city. My thoughts are with the family and the community. There is a long road of healing ahead, and a lot of work remains to be done. I hope to help us along that path in any way I can. But right now, I’m sad, disturbed, and looking for more answers, like many of you. I’ll share more information when I can.”
3. Damond Was Engaged to Be Married & Gave Meditation Seminars
Engaged to be married in August, with a fiancee and soon-to-be stepson, Damond had her whole life ahead of her. She had moved to America, friends back in Sydney said, to follow her heart.
Don Damond told the news media on July 17 that the family’s hearts were broken.
“She was so kind. So darn funny. She made us all laugh with her great wit and her humor. It’s difficult to fathom how to go forward without her,” Don said.
Here’s more video from Damond’s emotional press conference:
In America, she held seminars on yoga and meditation at a local consciousness center. That center wrote on Facebook, “We are so sad to report the tragic shooting of Justine Damond. Justine was one of the most loving people you would ever meet. We can’t even imagine LHSC with out her.”
Justine was remembered for her beautiful spirit and profound awareness of healing, which she focused her life around after losing family members to cancer, according to her website. Friends called her a beautiful person and “evolved soul,” and protests have erupted in Minneapolis as activists and family members demand answers.
Justine ran Tuesday night classes on meditation for the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community in Minnesota, which calls itself “a center for conscious living.”
“Originally trained as a Veterinary Surgeon, Justine has also studied and practiced yoga and meditation for over 17 years, is a qualified yoga instructor, a personal health & life coach (EFT, Theta and Reconnective Healing practitioner) and meditation teacher, embracing and teaching the neuro-scientific benefits of meditation with trainings under internationally renowned neuroscientist Dr Joe Dispenza from What the Bleep,” the site’s bio for Justine reads.
4. Noor Has Degrees In Business & Economics but Is the Subject of a Pending Federal Complaint
According to a City of Minneapolis newsletter, Noor “has a Degree in Economics and Business Administration from Augsburg College. Prior to joining the Department he worked in Property Management primarily in commercial and residential properties both in Minneapolis and the St. Louis Missouri/ East Metro market. Officer Noor is excited to be on the 5th Precinct roster and looking forward to being a part of the community.”
Augsburg College is a liberal arts and professional studies college in Minneapolis. The college told Heavy in a statement: “A Mohamed Noor who studied business administration, management, and economics graduated from Augsburg in 2011.”
The newsletter adds, “Officer Noor joined the Department in March 2015 and just recently completed his Field Training.”
The Somali community considered Officer Noor, one of nine Somali officers on the Minneapolis force, a role model.
Abdikadir Hassan told The Star-Tribune: “He is inspiring to young people in the community. He is very supportive and good with the kids. He is such a lovely guy.”
The Somali community in Minnesota is the nation’s largest.
“The largest Somali diaspora community in the United States lives in Minnesota. Elders and parents in Minnesota’s Somali community increasingly worry that children born in the United States lack connection to their Somali heritage,” reports the Somali Museum of Minnesota.
According to Minneapolis journalist Farrah Fazal, Noor “used to work in property management in real estate in St. Louis/East Metro area.”
The open federal case in the United States District Court, District of Minnesota was filed against Noor, two other police officers, and the City of Minneapolis, by a woman named Teresa M. Graham.
Federal court documents say the complaint is an action for money damages arising out of a May 25, 2017 incident. The complaint accuses Noor and the other officers “without any reasonable or legal cause” of forcing “their way into Plaintiff’s house,” where they’re accused of having “violently and forcibly detained her, and transported her to a hospital against her will.” She’s alleging violations of constitutional rights.
Graham is a retired social worker from Minneapolis.
She alleged that she had called 911 “to report an unknown young male who was sitting on her retaining wall behind her house, smoking marijuana and appeared to be under the influence of drugs.” She did not receive communication or a visit from police, she said, so she assumed they “did not do anything in response to her call.”
She called police again.
She received a phone call from a lieutenant who told her police had driven by her house that morning in response to her 911 call. She also sent an email that afternoon to the mayor, police chief and others “complaining about the lack of response to vulnerable adult reports that she had filed related to the illness and death of her sister in November 2016.”
Police reports allege that “one or more relatives of Plaintiff reported to police that Plaintiff has some sort of mental health issues,” the complaint says.
At about 8 p.m. that day, Officer Noor and another police officer came to her house to perform a “welfare check” and Noor “reported that the welfare check was in response to a request” by “an anonymous cousin.”
They knocked on her door, and she opened it. The other officer told the woman that “a cousin had called and accused Plaintiff of making threats to him and his family.”
That officer told Graham that “they came to find out if she was okay and told Plaintiff that a family member had called and stated there was a problem,” the complaint alleges. The officers wouldn’t tell her who called.
Noor “eventually stated that the issue was over and apologized,” and the officers left, the complaint alleges. Graham then called 911 to complain about the police encounter. She believed it was retaliation for her earlier complaint and was “bizarre.” She also called 911 to “report concerns about her brother, a vulnerable adult with serious medical needs.”
Noor and two other officers again came to Graham’s house. Another officer had “ordered that Plaintiff be involuntarily transported by ambulance to a hospital,” according to police reports of Noor and a third officer.
Graham told officers to leave and shut the door. They broke a screen insert in the storm door and removed it, her complaint alleges. They knocked repeatedly on her front door.
She claims that the officers forced their way into her home without permission. “Defendant Officer Noor grabbed Plaintiff’s phone from her hand and then grabbed her right wrist and upper arm, thereby immobilizing her,” the complaint says.
Graham was told she was going to the hospital because it was believed she was in a “mental health crisis.” She was accused of calling 911 “a million times,” the complaint says. In the application for emergency admission, she was accused of continuously calling 911 and being verbally agitated and not making sense, which she denies.
She was held at the medical center for more than 1.5 hours, at which time a physician ordered that she be discharged, the complaint says.
According to KARE11, “Noor has two open complaints against him from 2017 and one from 2016,” although the station does not detail what they are about.
5. Noor Is on Administrative Leave While the Shooting Is Investigated & Was Recently Named in a Divorce Filing That Said He Wanted His Son to Speak English First
Noor has been placed on administrative leave, while state authorities investigate the shooting. That’s a standard action in officer-involved shootings.
According to The Star-Tribune, he was named in a December divorce action. The Star Tribune reported that “Noor was described in divorce documents filed in December as a caring, involved father who was at times consumed by the demands of his job.”
Added the newspaper: “His mother often watched Noor’s son while he was at work. They spoke Somali at home, but Noor insisted that English be his son’s first language.” He was lauded by an evaluated for his “even keel and calm demeanor,” the newspaper reported.
Jamal Hashi, a friend of Noor’s, told UK Daily Mail that he “gave up his marriage to become an police officer” because his wife didn’t support the choice. Hashi told Daily Mail, “He worked for seven years as an economist and is an educated man. He was making amazing money and able to support his family. But he said he could do a lot more by being a police officer ‘than sitting behind a cubicle.'”
Hashi told the Daily Mail that Noor was humble and considered a “conduit” between Somali youth in the area and police.
Zach Damond, who would have become Justine’s stepson when she married his father in a month, demanded answers in an emotional video posted by an activist online.
“My mom is dead because a police officer shot her for reasons I don’t know, and I demand answers,” Zach Damond said. “If anybody can help, just call police and demand answers. I’m so done with all this violence. It’s so much bullsh*t. America sucks.”
He added, “These cops need to get trained differently. I need to move out of here. I just know she heard a sound in the alley, so then she called the police, and the cops showed up and she was a very passionate woman, and she probably, she thought something bad was happening. Next thing I know, they take my best friend’s life. So, I’m just done. F*ck the police. Some of you are good, but like I’m just done. I’m so done. This has to stop. This has to stop. That was my mom.”