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Deportation plane’s ‘mystery’ return from Somalia lands in legal morass



Canada Arten boarded a flight back to Africa this month — after eight years awaiting his deportation and months of last-ditch efforts to avert it. But in a stunning reversal for the Twin Cities man and 91 other deportees on board, the plane turned back to the United States.

The flight’s return has landed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in a legal, logistical and public relations morass. The case of Arten, who arrived as a refugee but lost his legal status after a robbery conviction, highlights the cascade of complications triggered by the failed mission. A federal lawsuit in Florida on behalf of him and other passengers, who allege physical abuse aboard the flight, has blocked their deportations until at least Jan. 8.

In federal court in Minneapolis, Arten’s attorney successfully argued the botched flight puts into question the government’s ability to send people back to Somalia; Arten could be released in a month.

The legal challenges could have long-term significance, tackling a question fought out in courtrooms across the country: How much of a role can the courts play in deportation challenges? The government disputes the passengers’ allegations and the idea that it can’t pull off deportations to Somalia.

“I don’t think this one failed mission, despite all the publicity, detracts from all the successful missions that have gone before, which of course do not get the same publicity,” said Ann Bildtsen, an assistant U.S. attorney, in a Minneapolis courtroom.

Mission gone wrong

Arten came to the United States in his early teens after losing family members in Somalia’s civil war. He was ordered deported in 2009, three years after his felony robbery conviction. But at the time, ICE could not send him to Somalia, which did not have a functioning government. Arten, who had prior convictions for assault and disorderly conduct, went on to rack up offenses for car theft, terroristic threats and drunken driving, among others.

A federal judge this week said that “the severity and frequency of Arten’s criminal activity has subsided in recent years,” and his mother, Lul Hussein, said he cared for her as she battled kidney disease.

In March, ICE detained him and set out to deport him. Deportations to Somalia resumed and picked up under President Barack Obama; under Donald Trump, their numbers have swelled, to 520 this past fiscal year.

In the following months, an immigration judge denied a request to reopen Arten’s case, and the Board of Immigration Appeals denied his appeal. A second attempt to reopen his case based on worsening security in Somalia also failed; an appeal is pending, but a request to stay his deportation was denied.

On Dec. 7, Arten got on a chartered flight to Senegal, the first leg of his return to Somalia. ICE says two-thirds of the passengers had criminal convictions, including for murder. Others had unsuccessfully sought asylum, including a Mayo Clinic cardiovascular technician and an Owatonna police officer who has a U.S. citizen wife and children.

In court documents, ICE says shortly before the plane landed in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, the relief crew notified the agency that a hotel power outage prevented them from getting required rest. The original crew went to a hotel to rest, and the plane sat on the runway for more than 20 hours, after Senegal refused to allow deportees to get off. Because of the delay, ICE said, the plane would have had to wait another 20 hours before continuing to Djibouti to meet a connecting flight to Somalia. Because of crew fatigue and the detainees’ “restlessness,” the agency made the call to fly back to Florida, where the passengers are now detained.

This week, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., wrote to ICE demanding answers about the Somalia mission.

A legal opportunity?

Earlier this week, the University of Minnesota’s Center for New Americans, the University of Miami School of Law and two other organizations filed a federal lawsuit in Miami, alleging ICE officers and contract guards kicked, struck, dragged, choked and bound detainees during the Dakar layover. The suit also says the passengers sat shackled for more than 40 hours and did not get enough food or bathroom breaks.

Attorneys argue the international headlines about the failed mission make returning the deportees even riskier. They say the publicity has alerted the terror group Al-Shabab, linked to the October bombing in Mogadishu that killed more than 500.

The government denied the deportees were mistreated and argued the Miami court does not have jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, lawyers have seized on the failed mission in a flurry of legal challenges. For example, local attorney Mirella Ceja-Orozco asked the local immigration court to revisit the case of client Rahim Mohamed, a truck driver facing deportation over a years-old conviction.

In Minneapolis federal court, Arten’s attorney asked for a temporary restraining order, arguing to send him back before his appeal is resolved would violate his due process rights. There’s more: Arten has been detained longer than six months, which means the government needs to show it can deport him soon or let him go. Rachel Petersen, his attorney, said she doesn’t buy the government’s explanation for the flight’s return, suggesting it has to do with Somalia’s past intransigence on deportations and unstable conditions.

“A plane went all the way to Africa, sat for a day and instead of continuing across Africa, returned to the U.S.,” she told Magistrate Judge David Schultz. She said Arten, who broke his wrist in a fall and still wears a cast, was extremely uncomfortable and was slapped by a guard.

Bildtsen, the government attorney, noted that Arten has gone to immigration court and the board of appeals twice, taking “a second bite at the apple.” “At what point do we reach a point of finality so the law can be executed?” she said.

To complicate matters for the government, a travel document the Somali Embassy issued for Arten expires this month. Bildtsen argued the Minneapolis court doesn’t have jurisdiction — and doesn’t need to issue a separate order given the stay in Miami as securing new documents and planning another mission will take time, she said.

But Schultz noted that means Arten might have to be released in the wake of the failed flight, which he dubbed “a bit of a mystery.” He found that Arten should stay until his appeal is decided and gave the government 30 days to release him or show it can deport him soon — findings the government can challenge.

Jurisdiction is a key question, said Rebecca Sharpless at the University of Miami. In 2005, Congress gave sole authority for deportation challenges to the immigration appeals board. But in recent years, federal courts have carved out exceptions. In fact, the court in Minneapolis kept two men from boarding the Dec. 7 flight to Somalia.

Michele McKenzie at Minneapolis-based nonprofit Advocates for Human Rights, which helped with the Miami suit, says attorneys and advocates will highlight the December mission’s failure to question the wisdom of attempting more and call for more transparency about the flights.

Said McKenzie, “We know we can’t pretend this didn’t happen.”


Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor makes first court appearance; leaves jail after posting $400,000 bond



STAR TRIBUNE — The former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder and manslaughter in the July shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond made his first court appearance Wednesday, where his bail was set at $400,000.

During the hearing, Mohamed Noor said his first public words since the incident in south Minneapolis, spelling his name and confirming his address to Judge Kathryn Quaintance. Noor, slight and soft-spoken, said nothing else during the 15-minute hearing at the Public Safety Facility in downtown Minneapolis.

Quaintance set his bail at $400,000 on the condition that he turn over his passport, surrender his firearms and ammunition and refrain from contacting his former partner Matthew Harrity, the lone witness in the racially charged case that drew international outrage and led to the ouster of former police Chief Janeé Harteau. Bail without conditions was set at $500,000. Noor paid the $400,000 conditional bond and left the Hennepin County jail late Wednesday in the company of his attorney.
Police union officials said that Noor was fired from the department on Tuesday.

Throughout the hearing Wednesday, Noor stood behind a glass partition in an orange jail jumpsuit, wearing a solemn expression. He barely turned to face the packed courtroom gallery, never making eye contact with a group of relatives and friends seated in the front row. Several dozen other supporters huddled in the hallway outside the courtroom.

Noor, 32, turned himself in on Tuesday morning, a day after authorities issued a sealed warrant for his arrest. He is charged with firing his gun from inside his police SUV and hitting Damond, who had called 911 to report a suspected assault in the alley behind her Fulton neighborhood home. Her death provoked protests and became a symbol, in Minneapolis and her native Australia, of how police shootings affect all communities. It also led to Harteau’s firing by then-Mayor Betsy Hodges.

Noor maintained his silence, choosing not to speak to state investigators or the grand jury investigating Damond’s death. The grand jury concluded its probe Monday, the day before Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced his charging decision.

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Amy Sweasy argued that Noor’s bail should be substantial, saying that he posed a flight risk, and that her office had developed “credible evidence” last fall that Noor had left the country.

The report proved false, but she said prosecutors grew more worried after hearing from a witness who claimed that he had “offered to hide [Noor] out.”

“These are the witness’ words, not mine,” she said.

Noor’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said in court that the charges against his client were baseless, while calling the initial $500,000 bail “frankly, outrageous.”

He pointed out that Noor had submitted his DNA to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in June for testing, and later voluntarily went to City Hall to meet with an investigator after rumors surfaced that he had left the country.

Plunkett said that Noor posed no risk of fleeing, adding that the former officer came to Minnesota at the age of 5, escaping a civil war in his native Somalia, and had never known another home.

“He has no connection to any other place,” said Plunkett, after waiving a reading of the charges. “Your Honor, Mr. Noor is an American.”

After hearing from both sides, Quaintance offered the conditional bail and set Noor’s next court date for May 8.

“Officer Noor, like any other person charged with a crime in America, is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Quaintance said. “If he has a trial, it will be in a court of law, not in the media or in the streets.”

Defense attorney Ryan Pacyga said that he was surprised by the prosecution’s high bail request, particularly considering that Noor voluntarily turned himself in and has ties to the community.

He also scoffed at the prosecution’s depiction of Noor as a danger to the public, pointing out that his alleged crime was committed in the course of his duties as a police officer — a profession that is authorized to use deadly force if lives are in imminent danger. “The point is that we’re not talking about some madman, even under the government’s version of this case, that poses some particular danger to the community out there,” Pacyga said.

Jeronimo Yanez, the only other Minnesota officer in recent history charged in an on-duty shooting, was released on his own recognizance. A jury last summer cleared Yanez of any criminal wrongdoing in the shooting death of Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights.

About a month after that verdict, Damond was killed in Minneapolis.

Messages left for Noor’s father went unreturned on Wednesday.

The Somali-American Police Association broke its monthslong silence on Wednesday, saying in a statement that it was “saddened” by what it called politically and possibly racially motivated charges.

We believe Freeman is more interested in furthering his political agenda than he is in the facts surrounding this case,” the statement read. “The charges brought against Officer Noor are not intended to serve justice; rather, they are meant to make an ‘example’ of him.”

An MPD spokeswoman on Wednesday confirmed that an internal probe into the incident was ongoing, but otherwise declined to comment.

Lt. Bob Kroll said claims that Noor plotted to leave the country were news to him.

“He was on administrative leave so he had daily check-ins with [Internal Affairs], I believe,” said Kroll, president of the Minneapolis Police Federation, the union that represents the department’s roughly 880 sworn police officers.

He said they will likely file a grievance on Noor’s behalf to challenge the firing, which is standard practice in disciplinary cases. He said that he wasn’t entirely surprised by the department’s decision to fire Noor, who had been on paid administrative leave since the shooting. “I understand when you’ve got a person facing those charges, there’s a lot of pressure for the administration to get that person off the table, given the public outcry,” he said.

The union has come under fire from critics from both within the department and outside its ranks for not publicly defending Noor.

Noor, who joined the department three years ago, is named in a brutality lawsuit wending its way through federal court. Earlier this month, a judge in that case ruled that an attorney for the woman suing Noor along with another Minneapolis cop and the department was not allowed to ask questions about the Damond shooting.

Staff writers Elizabeth Sawyer and Faiza Mahamud contributed to this report.

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Resettlement of Somalis in Minnesota plummets in wake of Trump policies



MINNPOST — Micaela Schuneman and Ben Walen both lead refugee resettlement efforts at separate nonprofit organizations in the Twin Cities. And both have recently noticed a similar trend in their line of work: a substantial decline in the number of Somali refugee admissions.
“Last year, for my office, we had resettled 99 Somali refugees during [the first half of] our fiscal year, which started on October 1st,” said Schuneman, who’s director of refugee services at the International Institute of Minnesota. “This year, we’ve resettled 13.”

Walen, the director of refugee services at the Minnesota Council of Churches, has seen a similar pattern. In the last several years, Somalis accounted for 40 to 50 percent of the organization’s overall refugee resettlement caseload. This year, however, “we’re down to below 20 percent,” he said.

That’s a big shift from the number of Somali refugees the state has resettled in previous years. From 2014-2017 nearly 4,000 refugees from Somalia were resettled in Minnesota, which represented the single largest group of new arrivals brought here each year.

That’s not a big surprise. The administration of President Donald Trump has reduced overall refugee arrivals since it came into office in 2017. Yet the primary cause is the administration’s increased scrutiny of refugees from predominantly Muslim countries, said Schuneman and Walen.

Last year, President Trump signed an executive order seeking to temporarily suspend all refugee admissions for 120 days. Despite multiple legal challenges, the moratorium went into effect in June. When the suspension expired in October, the resettlement programs reopened their services to new arrivals — except for those from Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The U.S. government designated those nations as “high-risk,” imposing another 90-day ban to implement tighter security measures. That 90-day suspension ended in January, “but we have not seen Somali arrivals really pick up since,” said Schuneman.

Reports from the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) confirm those observations. Although March marks halfway through the federal government’s fiscal year, only 57 refugees from Somalia have so far been resettled statewide. During the same period last year, that number exceeded 650.

That makes Karen refugees from Burma the largest group so far admitted in Minnesota. Statewide, a little over 240 refugees have been resettled during the current federal fiscal year. They include 60 people from Burma, 30 from Congo and 38 from Ethiopia. “People coming out of Burma are about 45 percent of our arrival so far this year,” Walen said. “Our next larger group is people from Somalia, 16 percent total.”

In addition to the seven-month ban on most Somali immigration, stricter security measures imposed on Somali immigrants — which the government says would prevent potential terrorists from coming to America — was still another factor in the reduction.

“Much of who will be resettled to the United States — and who we welcome to Minnesota through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program — is dependent on overseas screening and vetting process carried out by the U.S. Department of State in coordination with many other federal agencies,” DHS told MinnPost in an email. “These processes lead to final approval and ultimately travel to the United States. The current administration has been reviewing and updating existing processes, which has led to a dramatic slowing of arrivals to the United States.”

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Mpls. officer charged with murder in Justine Damond case



KARE 11 — MINNEAPOLIS – Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor turned himself in to authorities Tuesday after a warrant was issued for his arrest in connection with the death of Justine Damond.

Noor’s attorney Thomas Plunkett confirms the officer is currently in custody, and the Hennepin County Jail roster lists the charges against Noor as third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

According to the warrant that spells out the charges against Noor:

“There’s no evidence that, in that short timeframe, Officer Noor encountered, appreciated, investigated or confirmed a threat that justified the decision to use deadly force. Instead, Officer Noor recklessly and intentionally fired his handgun from the passenger seat. A location at which he would have been less able than Officer (Matthew) Harrity to see and hear events on the other side of the squad car.”
The warrant goes on to say that Harrity did pull out his gun, but held it to his side and didn’t fire. Statements from Harrity say both he, and Officer Noor, felt a threat.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman has scheduled a news conference Tuesday afternoon in the Grand Jury Room of the courthouse to discuss his charging decision. KARE 11 will have multiple crews there and plans to carry the proceedings live. A community action group called “Justice for Justine” has announced it will hold a rally tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the intersection of 50th and Washburn Avenue South.

Damond’s family said in a written statement that they’re pleased that Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman decided to bring charges. They say they hope a strong case will be presented and Noor will be convicted.
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Their statement says justice “demands accountability for those responsible for recklessly killing the fellow citizens they are sworn to protect.”
“Justine’s family in Australia and the US applaud today’s decision to criminally charge Officer Noor with Justine’s murder as one step toward justice for this iniquitous act,” reads the full family statement. “While we waited over eight months to come to this point, we are pleased with the way a grand jury and County Attorney Mike Freeman appear to have been diligent and thorough in investigating and ultimately determining that these charges are justified. We remain hopeful that a strong case will be presented by the prosecutor, backed by verified and detailed forensic evidence, and that this will lead to a conviction. No charges can bring our Justine back. However, justice demands accountability for those responsible for recklessly killing the fellow citizens they are sworn to protect, and today’s actions reflect that.”

Noor fatally shot Damond on July 15, 2017 while responding to her call of a possible sexual assault in progress.

According to the warrant, Officer Harrity told investigators that he heard a noise that startled him and Officer Noor. Harrity said he perceived that his life was in danger and unholstered his gun, holding it to his rib cage, pointing it downward. He told investigators Damond approached their squad car from the rear driver’s side then saw Officer Noor with his right arm extended. Harrity looked out the window and saw a woman, later identified as Damond, put her hands on a gunshot wound on the left side of her abdomen and say, “I’m dying” or “I’m dead,” the warrant states.

She was pronounced dead on the scene.

The death of the popular neighborhood organizer and activist triggered anger and action across the community, eventually leading to the resignation of Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau. On Tuesday, Harteau posted a statement on Twitter regarding the charges against Noor.

“Justine Damond’s family deserves answers and they deserve justice. As I originally stated Justine didn’t have to die,” Harteau tweeted. “This tragedy was the result of the actions of one officer, of which we still don’t know why. I ask people to continue to support the officers that provide selfless and honorable service every day to the citizens of Minneapolis.”

While Officer Harrity cooperated with BCA investigators in the wake of Damond’s death, Noor refused to share his side of the story, and was not compelled to by law.

In September, the BCA turned its investigation over to Freeman’s office for consideration of criminal charges against Noor. The county attorney promised a decision by the end of 2017 but it did not come. In December, a cell phone video was released of Freeman at a holiday party, with activists asking him why Noor had not been charged yet. Freeman said that he didn’t have enough evidence to charge Noor, blaming investigators who “haven’t done their job.” The interaction was recorded without Freeman’s knowledge and was posted extensively on social media.

In late January, Damond family attorney Bob Bennett told KARE 11 that a grand jury had been called to hear testimony in the case, a development the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office would not confirm, citing the secrecy of the proceedings.

That testimony began in February, with more than 30 Minneapolis police officers subpoenaed to testify, including Officer Mohamed Noor’s partner, Officer Harrity.

Officer Noor was hired by the Minneapolis Police Department on March 23, 2015 and had no prior law enforcement experience. He completed training at the Minneapolis PD Academy and was trained in numerous scenarios, intended to teach officers how to identify a threat, if any, before shooting.

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