Officer in Minnesota shooting was celebrated in Somali community

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Mohamed Noor was celebrated when he became a Minneapolis police officer 21 months ago, joining a handful of other Somalis on the police force in a city with one of the United States’ largest Somali communities.

Now he is now under investigation in fatal shooting of Justine Damond, an Australian woman who had made Minneapolis her home and who was killed by a single gunshot wound to the abdomen that state law enforcement officials say was fired by Noor.

Noor, 31, still has supporters after the shooting of Damond, who had called 911 to report a possible sexual assault in her neighborhood on Saturday.

But some are worried about a backlash in the Somali community, while one former politician had only harsh words.

The eldest of 10 children, Noor came to the United States as a child and has been held up by the Somali community as an example. He was one of only about 20 Somali police officers in Minnesota.

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges had touted his arrival to the police force in a Facebook post.

“I want to take a moment to recognize Officer Mohamed Noor, the newest Somali officer in the Minneapolis Police Department,” she said in a May 2016 post, a few months after he joined the department, alongside photos of Noor smiling at a community meet-and-greet. “His arrival has been highly celebrated, particularly by the Somali community.”

He remains a role model for some.

“He is inspiring to young people in the community,” Abdikadir Hassan, a candidate for a Minneapolis Park Board seat, told the Star Tribune said this week.

Others said the community could suffer.

“A lot of people are holding the Somali community accountable,” said Abdirizak Bihi, director of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center in Minneapolis. “That’s absolutely wrong.”

Among the most vocal critics was Michele Bachmann, a Republican former U.S. representative. On Wednesday she called Noor an “affirmative-action hire by the hijab-wearing mayor of Minneapolis,” the Star Tribune reported.

Noor has refused to be interviewed by authorities about the shooting, which has sparked outrage in Minneapolis and in Australia. Police are investigating why body cameras on Noor and the second police officer who arrived at the scene and the dashboard camera on their patrolcar were not turned on at the time.

His record has not been spotless. In his 21 months on the force, he received three complaints. The police union said that rate is not very unusual.

Police records show that one of the complaints closed with no discipline and two remain open. It did not detail the issues involved, and police have not yet released his personnel file.

Noor was sued in June along with two other officers in a case now in federal court for a rights violation over their role in transporting a woman to a hospital after a relative reported concern about her mental health. The case is pending.

It is not clear when Noor came to the United States, but in 2011 he earned a degree in business administration, management and economics from Augsburg College in Minneapolis, according to a spokeswoman for the school.

He worked as a hotel manager in Minnesota and at a real estate business in St. Louis, court documents show.

Noor has a 7-year-old son, according to court documents filed as part of a child custody proceeding. At one point, he lived alone in a sparse one-bedroom apartment, where he had a box of Lego blocks for his son, the documents said. It was not clear where the son currently resides.

“He joined the police force to serve the community and to protect the people he serves,” his lawyer, Tom Plunkett, said in a statement. “Officer Noor is a caring person with a family he loves.”

Reporting by Todd Melby in Minneapolis Editing by Leslie Adler