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Police killing of Ricky Cobb II puts Moriarty at odds with those who supported her election

Several activists, as well as Cobb’s family, are asking for charges to be brought against the troopers involved in Cobb’s killing.

Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty
Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty has stated that once the case is submitted to her office, they will work to make a charging decision “as quickly as possible.”
MinnPost file photo by Tony Nelson

Following the killing of Ricky Cobb II by a Minnesota State Patrol officer late last month, activists who championed Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty in her election bid last year are now calling on the progressive prosecutor to follow through on campaign promises of police accountability.

Though Moriarty said her office is waiting for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to finish its investigation first, several activists, as well as Cobb’s family, are asking for charges to be brought against the troopers involved in Cobb’s killing.

Cobb’s killing

Cobb was killed during a 2 a.m. traffic stop along Interstate Highway 94 on July 31. The troopers stopped the vehicle for unilluminated taillights, but later attempted to take Cobb into custody in connection with a suspected felony-level offense in Ramsey County.

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Body camera footage released by the Minnesota State Patrol shows three troopers approaching Cobb’s car during the traffic stop. One trooper opens the driver’s side door after telling Cobb to get out of the vehicle as another opens the passenger side door. Cobb attempts to drive off when the trooper on the passenger side, identified as Ryan Londregan, draws his gun and yells “Get out of the car now!” before shooting Cobb several times.

Ricky Cobb II
Ricky Cobb II
The troopers called for paramedics but Cobb died at the scene.

“Losing a twin brother is never easy,” Rashad Cobb, Ricky Cobb’s twin brother, said through tears during a Friday news conference. “Continuously doing this to us is unacceptable. I ask that we be treated fairly.”

Expediting charges

In the weeks since Cobb’s death, activists have held several rallies and demonstrations seeking justice for Cobb in the form of terminations and charges against the troopers involved. During a rally last week, local attorney and activist Nekima Levy Armstrong called on Gov. Tim Walz to use his executive powers to immediately fire the troopers involved in Cobb’s killing.

“It does not take a rocket scientist to see that these state troopers violated Ricky Cobb’s civil rights and civil liberties,” she said. “Had they simply left him alone instead of penalizing him for driving while Black, he would still be alive today.”

Nekima Levy Armstrong
Courtesy of Nekima Levy Armstrong
Nekima Levy Armstrong
In addition to their firings, Levy Armstrong called for criminal charges as well. She along with other activists supported Moriarty, who made police accountability a building block of her campaign, during last year’s election, but now wonder why charges have not yet been brought against the troopers who killed Cobb.

“Why are these officers at home with their families after what they’ve done?” Levy Armstrong said. “They need to be held accountable.”

In a statement released shortly after the video of Cobb’s killing was made public, Moriarty said her office is waiting for the BCA investigation to conclude. Once the case is submitted to her office, they will work to make a charging decision “as quickly as possible,” she said.

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“I know this community continues to navigate the trauma and grief that results from police violence and the tragic loss of our community members at the hands of law enforcement, no matter the circumstances. And I know that our community wants answers. We will work as swiftly as possible to provide them,” the statement reads. “This is an important decision that impacts everyone in our community, including the family and friends of Ricky Cobb, the troopers who were involved, and our broader community. I take both police accountability and the integrity of the legal process very seriously.”

Civil rights attorney Bakari Sellers, who is representing the Cobb family with colleagues Harry Daniels and F. Clayton Tyler, told reporters on Friday that the family believes Londergan should have been fired and charges should be brought against the officer. But, he said, they want the BCA’s investigation to bear out what they believe is obvious.

“That officer played prosecutor, judge and executioner of Ricky, but this family dare not stand before you today and say that we are going to be judge, jury and executioner of this cop,” Sellers said. “We want this process to play out. You asked me my opinion on should he be charged — the answer is clearly yes, but we’re not going to do to that officer what that officer did to Ricky.”

Mitchell Hamline School of Law Professor Rick Petry said he understands community members’ pressure on Moriarty to bring charges against the officers.

“They’re tired of seeing Black men being shot by the police,” he said. “I mean at its root, that’s the problem.”

At the same time, he said he understands Moriarty may be holding off to get a better look at the evidence. He said a prosecutor has to answer two questions: first, the legal question of whether they can make a showing of probable cause, then the ethical question of whether they can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

After watching the video, he said he would be surprised if the officers were charged. He said since the car started moving after one trooper was already partially inside, the theory that the officers escalated the encounter would be difficult to argue.

“I could see the defense saying the reason the cops shot is because they had one cop inside the car, the other one partially inside because they were trying to get him out,” he said. “And then the car takes off, and they didn’t want to get dragged down the street so that’s why the one guy shot.”

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Potential conflict of interest

Some have raised concerns about a potential conflict of interest regarding the BCA’s investigation into the shooting due to both the BCA and the State Patrol being subdivisions of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS).

“Obviously it’s always a concern when you have your own house conducting the investigation,” said Harry Daniels, the Cobb family’s attorney. “But we’re still going to wait and see what that investigation yields.”

Gov. Tim Walz
REUTERS/Nicole Neri
Gov. Tim Walz
The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA) sent a letter to Walz criticizing him for meeting with Cobb’s family, expressing their own concerns over conflict of interest. The letter from MPPOA general counsel Imran Ali claims since Walz has oversight of the DPS, the meeting undermines due process for the officers involved.

“As an elected leader, you play a key role as a trusted source of information. With that influence comes a paramount responsibility,” the letter reads. “Justice can only be achieved by a fair, thorough, and impartial investigation and judicial decisions. Everyone deserves that, including our members, Minnesota’s rank-and-file police officers.”

During a news conference earlier this month, Walz told reporters his administration looked into whether other jurisdictions could take on the investigation, including the city of Minneapolis, Hennepin County or the state of Wisconsin. But, he said, state law wouldn’t have allowed it, and ultimately they decided the BCA should do it.

“This is the first time at least in recent memory that we had a state agency involved in this – either be the DNR, the BCA itself or in this case the State Patrol,” he said. “This is the best qualified group of folks out there.”

Petry said he disagrees with the MPPOA’s claim because the governor is charged with representing everyone in Minnesota. On the BCA investigation, he said he would have more concerns if the State Patrol was investigating its own troopers, but he doesn’t see a direct conflict of interest due to the separation of their subdivisions.

“If you want to look at it from a real high level, they’re all subdivisions of the state of Minnesota, so it’s still the state of Minnesota investigating the state of Minnesota,” he said. “But at least in theory, it’s supposed to be that the BCA is independent of the State Patrol, and also the independent, frankly, of the county attorney’s office, so it should be that they are conducting their own independent investigation and the facts lead to wherever they lead.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include additional comment from Gov. Tim Walz. Staff reporter Peter Callaghan contributed to this reporting.