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Key players in the Mohamed Noor trial

Saturday March 30, 2019
By Riham Feshir , Jon Collins

Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, center, enters the Hennepin County Government Center with his attorneys Peter Wold and Thomas Plunkett, right, in Minneapolis on Friday, March 29, 2019. Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

A former Minneapolis police officer faces trial Monday in the killing a 40-year-old woman who had called 911 for help.

The shooting death of Australia native Justine Ruszczyk by former officer Mohamed Noor sparked protests and calls to reform policing in the Twin Cities and produced shock and disbelief across the Pacific Ocean.

Ruszczyk called 911 on July 15, 2017, to report what she thought was a woman being assaulted outside her home. Noor was a passenger in the squad car that responded to the call. Noor shot and killed Ruszczyk through the open driver's side window after she approached the squad car from behind.

Noor is facing three felonies in Ruszczyk's killing; second- and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter.

Convictions of police officers in deaths they caused while on duty are rare in the United States. But defense attorneys have already suggested that Noor, who is Somali-American, may contend with bias from jurors.

Mohamed Noor arrives at court hearing Anthony Souffle | Star Tribune via AP 2018

Mohamed Noor, defendant

Mohamed Noor, 33, became a police cadet in 2015 and worked for the Minneapolis Police Department until he was charged with murder in 2018 in the shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk. He had three complaints on his personnel file prior to the shooting. Two citizen complaints were dismissed without discipline, and the third is still open. The details of those complaints are not public. Noor was the first Somali-American police officer to work in MPD's 5th Precinct. He graduated with a business degree from Augsburg University in 2011. He previously worked for a health care company, hotels and a cell phone company.

Justine Ruszczyk Courtesy Stephen Govel 2017

Justine Ruszczyk, victim

Justine Ruszczyk, 40, was a yoga and meditation teacher born in Australia. She moved to Minneapolis to be with her fiance, Don Damond, and had already begun using his last name. Neighbors in Minneapolis said it was Ruszczyk's concern for others that led her to call 911 in July 2017 when she believed someone was in danger in the alley behind her home. Prosecutors say when police arrived, she went to the squad car's driver-side window, where Noor shot her from the passenger seat. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Attorney Thomas Plunkett leaves the Hennepin County Public Safety Facility. Evan Frost | MPR News 2018

Thomas Plunkett, Noor's lawyer

Thomas Plunkett is a St. Paul lawyer. He is one of several lawyers paid through a legal defense fund that's part of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. Plunkett was an officer and attack helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army and Army Reserve, according to his website. He has represented people facing DWI, domestic assault, theft and criminal sexual conduct charges. Another recent client is Kenneth Lilly, who is accused of shooting into a school bus and injuring the driver earlier this year.

Peter Wold is a lawyer representing Mohamed Noor. Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Peter Wold, Noor's lawyer

Peter Wold has been a licensed lawyer in Minnesota for nearly 40 years. He's also part of the group of lawyers covered by the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. His case record includes a wide range of trials, from representing people accused of child pornography, drunken driving and murder charges. Wold recently represented Thomas Tichich, a Minneapolis police officer found guilty last year of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman.

Hennepin County Judge Kathryn Quaintance Hennepin County Courts

Kathryn Quaintance, judge

 Hennepin County District Judge Kathryn Quaintance was appointed in 2000. She presided over the 2017 trial of a white Lauderdale man who shot and wounded two Somali-American men on their way to prayers. A jury found him guilty on all nine felony counts, including attempted premeditated murder. Anthony Sawina's attorney had claimed he fired in self-defense. Quaintance sentenced Sawina to 39 years in prison, citing the racial motivation behind the incident. Quaintance has been assigned to the criminal division for the past six years. Previously, she was the juvenile court presiding judge. She also served as Deputy Hennepin County Attorney.

Amy Sweasy, prosecutor

Amy Sweasy is a senior assistant Hennepin County attorney who's prosecuted high-profile cases including some that involved children. She was the prosecutor in the Barway Collins case, the 10-year-old boy who went missing from his Crystal apartment in 2015. His father was later charged in his murder after the boy's body was found in the Mississippi River.

Assistant Hennepin County attorney Patrick Lofton Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Patrick Lofton, prosecutor

Patrick Lofton is an assistant Hennepin County attorney who also prosecuted the Sawina case. Lofton has been with the Hennepin County Attorney's office for six years. He focuses on felony crimes including murder, burglaries and criminal sexual conduct. Last year, Lofton prosecuted Kabaar Powell, who fled from police and crashed into a playground injuring three children.

Officer Matthew Harrity, key witness

Matthew Harrity was Noor's partner at the time of the shooting. Harrity graduated in 2015 with a law enforcement degree from Metropolitan State University, according to his personnel file. He attended the Minneapolis police academy in 2016, and worked in the department's 2nd and 3rd Precincts. On July 15, 2017, he was driving the squad car that responded to Ruszczyk's 911 call. Noor sat in the passenger seat. Harrity is the only witness to the shooting. He told investigators that both officers got "spooked" when they heard a noise and a thump at the back of the squad. Harrity has two complaints on his file that were closed without discipline, according to the Office of Police Conduct Review.


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