It has been nearly two months since the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) completed its investigation into the killing of Ricky Cobb II by Minnesota state troopers.
The agency submitted its findings to Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty’s office, which has since been reviewing the evidence to determine whether to bring charges against the officers.
Though it’s been several weeks since Cobb’s family urged prosecutors to charge the officers following the 33-year-old Black man’s killing, a legal expert says Moriarty’s charging decision is not indicative of a delay – especially in this case, which they argued is far from cut and dry.
Shortly after receiving the BCA’s findings, Moriarty released a statement, detailing that she had met with Cobb’s family to assure them of her office’s diligence in the decision-making process. That process is somewhat hampered as Moriarty said the BCA informed her of state patrol employees who aren’t the subjects of the investigation but may have relevant information refused to cooperate with the investigation.
“We are disappointed by this lack of cooperation as the family, the community, and the troopers involved in this incident all deserve answers,” the statement reads. “For our part, I am committed to ensuring that our office utilizes all resources available to us to conduct a complete and thorough review, and reaches a decision as quickly as possible.”
Moriarty also said in the statement that her office found a use-of-force expert that will assist in its review, and acknowledged some community members’ calls for charges.
“I hear the community calls for an immediate charging decision, but I also know that rushing can lead to mistakes,” the prosecutor said. “Thank you for your patience as we work diligently to get this right.”
Cobb II was killed by a Minnesota state trooper on July 31 during a traffic stop on Interstate 94 in Minneapolis. During the stop involving three troopers, after officers opened Cobb’s car doors it appears Cobb attempted to drive away. That was when Minnesota Highway Patrol Officer Ryan Londregan shot at Cobb, killing him.
The troopers initiated the stop for driving without taillights but later learned Cobb had violated a protective order and tried to bring him in. The BCA said a firearm was found on the floor of the car but at no point did Cobb have it in his hands during the stop.
Cobb’s family released a statement thanking Moriarty and the BCA while expressing disappointment that some state patrol employees refused to cooperate with the investigation.
“To Trooper Londregan, to all those who have enabled and sheltered him by refusing to cooperate and tell the truth, the old ways of silence and turning a blind eye are over,” the statement reads. “Accountability is coming no matter how hard you try to hide.”
But Imran Ali, general counsel for the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association and a former prosecutor, criticized Moriarty’s statement, calling it unethical to comment before making the decision to bring charges.
“Prosecutors are the ministers of justice, and these statements unethically tip the balance,” he said.
Rachel Moran, University of St. Thomas School of Law professor and founder of the school’s Criminal and Juvenile Defense Clinic, said it’s not unusual for prosecutors to take weeks or months to review the evidence in potential homicides cases and determine whether to bring charges. This case is no exception because “the answer isn’t quite as cut and dry as it was in some other situations,” she said.
“A lot of times, prosecutors take a long time to investigate homicides and I don’t think the amount of time suggests delay on my end, as much as it does probably suggest a careful review,” Moran said. “If we’re having this conversation again in another couple of months, I’d start saying ‘Yeah, this looks more like delay,’ – and there are definitely prosecutors’ offices around the country that drag their feet about police killings and it just appears to be nothing more than delay, but my reaction to this particular situation is that we’re not in delay territory yet.”
Minnesota statute limits the use of deadly force by police officers to situations where they believe a person poses a threat of death or bodily harm. The question before prosecutors, Moran said, is whether Cobb driving away was a valid reason to perceive him as a threat.
“I think you could argue ‘no’ because (the troopers) are the ones who, in some ways, created the situation, particularly the officer who seemed to escalate by sticking his head in and starting to yell in an otherwise calm situation,” she said. “On the other hand, he is driving away and it’s happening more quickly.”
During her race for Hennepin County Attorney, Moriarty ran a progressive campaign with a platform that heavily featured promises for more police accountability. If the decision by her office is not to charge the troopers, some who voted for her will feel the first-term prosecutor didn’t live up to her platform, but, Moran said, she’s going to get criticism no matter what she does.
“If she doesn’t charge, there will be some people who perceive that as a betrayal of what she said she would do,” she said. “If she does charge, there will be people who say she’s biased, and that she’s just fulfilling her campaign promises and didn’t review this fairly.”