Prosecutor Drops Murder Charges Against Minnesota Trooper Amid Pushback


The top prosecutor in Minneapolis has dropped murder charges against a state trooper who fatally shot a motorist last year after a traffic stop, her office said on Sunday, a stunning turnaround in a case that ignited a political firestorm.

The trooper, Ryan Londregan, had been charged with second-degree murder in the killing of Ricky Cobb II. But the prosecutor, Mary Moriarty, a longtime public defender who was elected Hennepin County attorney in 2022, said she concluded that the evidence was too weak to take to trial.

For months, Ms. Moriarty defended the murder charges amid criticism from both Democratic and Republican officials, as well as law enforcement officials. In a statement on Sunday, she said that the announcement dismissing the charges was “one of the most difficult I’ve made in my career.”

The pushback over the charges reflected a shifting view on policing in the state four years after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer sparked a national outcry over racism and abuses by law enforcement. Mr. Cobb, 33, was Black; Trooper Londregan, 27, is white.

Ms. Moriarty took office promising sweeping changes in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s murder, including stronger efforts to hold officers accountable for misconduct. Civil rights activists had hailed her decision to charge Trooper Londregan as courageous.

Gov. Tim Walz, a fellow Democrat, had voiced his unease and made clear that he was considering using his legal authority to remove the case from her purview. In recent months, six of the state’s eight members of Congress issued statements criticizing the prosecution.

Mr. Cobb was killed last July 31 after state troopers pulled him over on Interstate 94 for driving without working taillights, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

During the stop, the troopers determined that Mr. Cobb, who was alone, was subject to arrest over a suspected violation of a protective order involving a former romantic partner, officials said.

Police body-camera footage showed Mr. Cobb questioning a request to get out of the car and demanding to know whether there was a warrant for his arrest. Trooper Londregan, who arrived at the scene 20 minutes after the initial stop and who was standing on the passenger’s side of the car, can be seen opening the door and reaching inside in an effort to force Mr. Cobb out. Another trooper, Brett Seide, did the same on the driver’s side.

Mr. Cobb’s vehicle began lurching forward, and Trooper Londregan fired twice, striking Mr. Cobb in the torso, officials said. The vehicle traveled for about a quarter-mile before coming to a stop. He died at the scene, officials said. Trooper Seide was not charged.

In a court filing, Trooper Londregan’s lawyers said that their client had used deadly force only to protect his colleague and himself from death or “great bodily harm,” as permitted under state law.

In April, after the lead prosecutor in Ms. Moriarty’s office asked to withdraw from the case, Ms. Moriarty made the unusual decision of retaining a team of former federal prosecutors who were in private practice to step in. That arrangement was expected to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

After reviewing the case, those lawyers issued a report to Ms. Moriarty recommending that she drop the case.

Until recently, Ms. Moriarty maintained that the troopers had not followed their training for such scenarios. But on Sunday, she pointed to two developments that she said had led to the reversal. During a recent hearing, she noted, Trooper Londregan’s lawyer said that his client had intended to testify that he shot Mr. Cobb because he feared that the motorist was reaching for the trooper’s gun.

And Trooper Londregan’s trainer provided a written declaration that undermined the theory that the trooper had acted in a manner inconsistent with his training, Ms. Moriarty said.

Those facts “would make it difficult for us to meet our trial burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” Ms. Moriarty added.

She said the decision should not be seen as an absolution.

“Prosecuting a case of police violence is always an uphill battle — and that is by design,” she said. Her statement continued: “Our decision to not go ahead with charges does not exonerate Trooper Londregan.”

Charges of assault and manslaughter against Trooper Londregan were also dropped.

Chris Madel, one of the trooper’s lawyers, said Sunday night that he was relieved by the decision.

“It’s about goddamned time,” he wrote in a text message.

Bakari Sellers, an attorney representing Cobb’s family, told The Star Tribune that the family was deeply disappointed.

“They got bullied,” he said.

Mr. Cobb’s family sued Troopers Londregan and Seide in federal court in April, a case that is pending. Trooper Londregan remains on paid leave while the state patrol conducts an investigation on the shooting. On Sunday night, Col. Christina Bogojevic, the head of the state police, issued a statement acknowledging “the loss felt by Mr. Cobb’s family.”

She added that troopers perform “difficult and dangerous work” and that “the use of force that took Ricky Cobb II’s life unfolded in a fraction of a second.”

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