Mar 18, 2024 - News

"I have concerns": Gov. Walz weighs in on Hennepin County attorney's case against state trooper

Mary Moriarty and Tim Walz

Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty and Gov. Tim Walz. Photos: Kyle Stokes/Axios and Angelina Katsanis/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz says he has concerns about the Hennepin County Attorney's handling of the murder case against a state trooper who fatally shot a man during a 2023 traffic stop.

The big picture: A legal dispute between county attorney Mary Moriarty and trooper Ryan Londregan's defense over a use-of-force expert sparked criticism from law enforcement and calls from Republicans for her to resign.

  • On Friday, the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association sent the governor a letter asking him to use his legal authority to direct the attorney general's office to take over the prosecution.

Catch up fast: Moriarty announced in January that her office was charging Londregan with second-degree unintentional murder for shooting and killing Ricky Cobb II last July.

  • It marked Moriarty's first prosecution of a high-profile shooting by law enforcement since winning election in 2022 on a platform that included holding police accountable for misconduct.

The latest: Critics of the case raised concerns after Londregan's defense attorney claimed in a court filing last week that Moriarty's charges went against her own use-of-force expert's opinion that the trooper didn't commit a crime.

  • A spokesperson for Moriarty called the assertion that the expert came to a formal legal opinion "simply false" and accused the defense of cherry-picking quotes to stir up pre-trial publicity.
  • On Monday, he told the Star Tribune that county attorney's office "would be happy to meet with the governor or his team to discuss any concerns they have about the rules of criminal procedure."

What he's saying: Axios asked Walz on Wednesday before the MPPOA letter was sent whether he had confidence in the DFL-endorsed prosecutor in light of the resignation calls.

  • "It's no secret that I've had many disagreements with the Hennepin County attorney and I will say I have concerns on this case right now," he told reporters for Axios and MinnPost. "I'm going to wait and see what the judge says, coming out on this interpretation on this expert witness, but I have concerns."
  • Walz, who oversees the state patrol as Minnesota's top executive, declined to comment further on the ongoing legal case.

The other side: "We are disappointed but not surprised to see MPPOA's request that the Governor give special treatment to this case and, for just the second time in the history of the state, remove a case from our jurisdiction," the Hennepin County Attorney's Office said in a statement. "We will not talk about the facts of this case. That's for the courtroom."

  • The statement, which did not directly address Walz's remarks, went on to criticize MPPOA for failing to acknowledge and "try to repair" what it called a history of "well-documented and horrific instances where some officers abused their power and used unauthorized force," adding that such abuses have "fallen disproportionately upon the shoulders of black and brown Minnesotans."

Between the lines: Walz and Moriarty also clashed last year, when outcry over plea deals for juvenile defendants in a murder case prompted the DFL governor to take the unprecedented step of reassigning the case to Attorney General Keith Ellison.

The intrigue: It's unclear whether Ellison could take on this case, since the defendant was employed by a state agency at the time of the shooting, as KARE 11 notes.

  • Walz downplayed those concerns on Monday, telling reporters the attorney general's office has "firewalls." He called intervening a "very serious step" but said he felt the option needed to be left open.
  • Ellison, meanwhile, told the Star Tribune that while he was reviewing the issue, the dynamic "does present a bit of a conflict." He called the situation "up in the air."

What's next: A hearing on the defense's request to force Moriarty to turn over more documents related to the expert opinion is scheduled for March 21.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include additional comments.

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