MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Attorneys for a Minneapolis police officer convicted of murder in the fatal shooting of an unarmed woman who had called 911 are asking a judge not to send him to prison, proposing instead that he report to jail for a week each year on the woman's birthday and the anniversary of her death.
State guidelines call for a 12½-year prison term, but Mohamed Noor's attorneys argued in a court filing ahead of Friday's sentencing that being imprisoned would keep Noor from making amends for killing Justine Ruszczyk Damond by doing good works in the community.
Defense attorneys Thomas Plunkett and Peter Wold proposed in a memo to Judge Kathryn Quaintance that she creatively sentence Noor to turn himself in to a county detention facility for a week every year on the anniversary of Damond's death and another week starting on her birthday. The proposed sentence would last the duration of Noor's probation, which the attorneys didn't specify in their request, and also would include an annual period of community service.
"This sentence honors the memory of Ms. Rusczcyk and allows Mr. Noor to continue to serve the city," they wrote. "Just as importantly, it mandates that Mr. Noor will continue to consider his action and the great loss they caused."
They submitted letters of support that they said show Noor is a kind and peaceful man who has tried to be a bridge between Somali Americans in Minnesota and the larger community.
Prosecutors were waiting until the hearing to recommend a sentence, said Chuck Laszewski, a spokesman for the Hennepin County Attorney's Office.
A jury convicted Noor in April of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the July 2017 death of Damond, a 40-year-old dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia who was engaged to be married a month after the shooting. Noor shot Damond when she approached his squad car in the alley behind her home.
Noor, 33, testified that a loud bang on the squad car scared him and his partner, and that he saw a woman at his partner's window raising her arm. He said he fired to protect his partner's life. But prosecutors criticized Noor for shooting without seeing a weapon or Damond's hands, and disputed whether either of them really heard a bang.
Damond's death sparked bewilderment and outrage in both the U.S. and her native Australia. The case was also fraught with race . Damond was white, and Noor is Somali American, leading some to question whether the case would have been handled the same if the victim had been black and the officer white. While the city agreed to a $20 million settlement with Damond's family soon after Noor's conviction, it has yet to settle with the family of Jamar Clark , a black man shot by police in 2015, though in that case police said Clark was struggling for an officer's gun.
Noor has been held since his conviction in the most secure unit at the state's maximum security prison in Oak Park Heights for his own safety, Corrections Department spokeswoman Sarah Fitzgerald said Thursday. He is alone in his cell but has the same privileges as other prisoners in the unit and is let out for recreation time, she said.
Under Minnesota's sentencing guidelines, Noor's presumptive sentence for third-degree murder would be 12½ years, although the judge could impose a sentence anywhere from about 11 to 15 years without providing justification. Any bigger variation would require an explanation. The presumptive sentence on the manslaughter count is four years.
A 12½-year sentence would be long compared with convictions in other recent high-profile police shootings. Most recently, white former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was sentenced in January to nearly seven years in prison for shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald. A white South Carolina police officer who fatally shot a black man in the back in 2017 got a 20-year sentence. But a white Oklahoma officer served less than half his four-year sentence for killing an unarmed and restrained black man in 2015. And a New York Asian American officer got probation and community service for accidentally killing an unarmed black man in 2014.
Bradford Colbert, an adjunct professor at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, said the third-degree murder charge for Noor "was a stretch" for circumstances he felt were more appropriately classified as manslaughter, a charge with a presumptive sentence of four years.
Susan Gaertner, a former chief prosecutor in neighboring Ramsey County, said she wouldn't be surprised if Noor got the 12½ years in the presumptive guidelines. But she also said she could see Quaintance going for the four-year recommended sentence for manslaughter — or no prison time at all.
Gaertner said prison wouldn't accomplish much in this case.
"I think a showing of mercy at this point would help address the community's concerns around race and the disproportionate impact of this case," she said.
Associated Press writer Amy Forliti contributed to this story.