Jun 3, 2024 - News

Hennepin County prosecutor defends decision to drop murder case against Minnesota state trooper

A white woman with white hair wearing a suit gesturing while speaking behind a podium

"This was one of the hardest decisions I've ever made," Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty told reporters at a press conference after dropping a murder case against a state trooper. Photo: Kyle Stokes/Axios

Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty on Monday defended her decision to drop charges against a state trooper who shot and killed a Black motorist, Ricky Cobb II, last year.

Why it matters: Moriarty's dismissal of the three charges — second-degree unintentional murder, manslaughter, and assault — against trooper Ryan Londregan brings an end to a prosecution that had become politically supercharged.

The big picture: The case is the most recent example of the challenges in prosecuting an officer who uses deadly force.

  • Moriarty's decision angered some of her political supporters who were drawn to her campaign promises to hold officers accountable in use-of-force cases.
  • Moriarty's critics in law enforcement said the outcome vindicated their belief that the charges had been a case of prosecutorial overreach from the beginning.

Catch up quick: In July 2023, Londregan shot Cobb during a chaotic traffic stop as three troopers attempted to pull him from the car.

  • In April, four months after the case was opened, Londregan provided what Moriarty said were new details about his account of the arrest: He said he feared his fellow trooper's life was in danger.

What they're saying: Moriarty said those new details were crucial in convincing the outside law firm handling the prosecution that a judge would've likely dismissed the case before it reached a jury.

  • "This was one of the hardest decisions I've ever made," Moriarty said.

The other side: Defense attorney Christopher Madel disputed that these details were new, noting one of his first court filings said Londregan's defense would center on his fear for his and his partner's life.

  • Madel dismissed the idea that Londregan could've prevented the prosecution by sharing these details sooner: "This county attorney was hell-bent on prosecuting a cop. She could not wait for a case like this to come up."
  • The state troopers' union issued a statement accusing Moriarty of ignoring evidence and manipulating facts, which all amounted to "prosecutorial abuse of power."

The intrigue: Monday also marked a new low in the already tense relationship between Moriarty and Gov. Tim Walz, a fellow Democrat, who confirmed he would have likely used his authority to reassign the case "soon" had Moriarty not come to this conclusion herself.

  • In a statement, Moriarty's office denied that pressure from the governor affected her decision.

Zoom in: Moriarty said the case underlines the desperate need for reform: "None of this would have happened except for the environment that the troopers created."

  • Moriarty questioned why troopers needed to pull Cobb from the car — which state patrol trainers called "risky" given the circumstances, prosecutors said. If he drove off, Moriarty contended officers would've been able to track him down elsewhere.
  • But Madel dismissed the prosecution's eight recommendations for Minnesota State Patrol training, tactics, and policies: "Shove it," he said of their list. Stay in your lane."

What's next: Londregan faces a civil lawsuit from Cobb family members, who seek unspecified damages.

  • The Cobb family's attorney, Bakari Sellers, told the Star Tribune that Moriarty's decision was cowardly: "They got bullied. There's no other way around it."

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