Minneapolis to pay $20M to family of 911 caller slain by cop

Published 7:53 pm Friday, May 3, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis will pay $20 million to the family of an unarmed woman shot by a police officer after she called 911 to report a possible crime, city leaders announced Friday — a move that comes just three days after the former officer was convicted of murder.

The settlement reached with the family of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia, is believed to be the largest stemming from police violence in the state of Minnesota. It’s believed that Mohamed Noor is the first Minnesota officer to be convicted of murder for an on-duty shooting.

Asked about the amount and speed of the settlement, Mayor Jacob Frey cited Noor’s unprecedented conviction, as well as the officer’s failure to identify a threat before he used deadly force.

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“This is not a victory for anyone, but rather a way for our city to move forward,” he said. “I do believe that we will move forward together, united in the shared belief that such a tragedy should never occur in our city.”

Bob Bennett, an attorney for Damond’s family in Australia, called the settlement amount “transformational” and said it “serves as a marker for future transgressions.”

Damond, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia, had called 911 late on the night of July 15, 2017, to summon officers to a possible rape in the alley behind her house. Noor and his partner were driving down the alley in a police SUV when they say they were startled by a loud bang on the vehicle. Noor testified that he fired to protect them from a perceived threat, after he saw his partner’s terrified reaction, and saw a woman appear at the driver’s side window, raising her right arm.

Bennett said Noor’s own testimony appeared to doom any defense of a civil claim.

“He didn’t see a threat,” Bennett said.

Jurors on Tuesday found Noor guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. They deliberated for about 11 1/2 hours after hearing three weeks of testimony.

Damond’s family had filed a lawsuit against the city and police leaders seeking more than $50 million, alleging her civil rights were violated.

The settlement, which will be paid by the city’s self-insurance fund, calls for Damond’s family to donate $2 million to a local foundation’s fund aimed at addressing gun violence. City leaders commended the family for addressing the broader issue of police violence, particularly affecting communities of color.

The settlement still needs a judge’s approval, but Bennett said he anticipates that will happen.

The death of Damond, 40, came a month before she was due to marry. Noor, 33, who had trained to become a police officer in a mid-career switch, was fired after he was charged.

He is in custody awaiting sentencing in June. Sentencing guidelines call for as many as 15 years in prison on the murder charge, though judges can depart from the guidelines.

Prosecutors criticized Noor for shooting without seeing a weapon or Damond’s hands. They also questioned whether the loud bang was real. Neither Noor nor his partner, Matthew Harrity, mentioned it to investigators at the scene, with Harrity first mentioning it three days later in an interview with state investigators. Noor refused to talk to investigators.

Damond’s death angered and bewildered citizens in the U.S. and Australia, and led to the resignation of Minneapolis’ police chief. It also led the department to change its policy on body cameras.

The fatal shooting and verdict were fraught with the issue of race. Damond was white, and Noor is Somali American, leading some in the community to question whether the case was treated the same as police shootings involving black victims.

Frey said he understands frustrations of those who feel that they have been denied justice, but said the circumstances of each civil case is different. Bennett said he doesn’t believe race played a factor in the size or speed of this settlement.