Ricky Cobb II shooting: New questions about police use-of-force expert

The legal team for Minnesota State Trooper Ryan Londregan is prompting new questions about the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office's decision to charge a state trooper with murder and manslaughter.

They claim in court filings that the office ignored early findings from a nationally recognized use-of-force expert who opined that the shooting of motorist Ricky Cobb II may have been justified given the trooper’s perception of the situation.

Prosecutors filed those charges against Londregan in connection to last summer’s deadly traffic stop shooting of Cobb on I-94 north of downtown Minneapolis.

Londregan’s legal team now claims the state’s own, contracted use-of-force expert told prosecutors early in the investigation that the shooting was justified if Londregan was trying to protect his partner.

When Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty outlined her office’s decision to charge Trooper Londregan, she explained prosecutors made the call without the input of a use-of-force expert. At the time, the announcement turned heads as her office had previously stated in a public news release, that it had picked out an expert, and that that person’s "independent review is a critical part" of the process to determine whether charges were warranted.

On Monday, in a 52-page defense filing, Londregan’s legal team believes they have figured out why that expert was not ultimately used. That is because, they believe the expert, Jeffrey Noble, a leading national voice in the field, who consulted with local prosecutors in the police killings of George Floyd and Philando Castile, had opined that Londregan may be justified in shooting Cobb if Londregan perceived his fellow trooper was in harm's way.

In body and squad camera footage released publicly in the aftermath, it appears the second trooper is inside Cobb’s car, attempting to pull him out while the vehicle begins to accelerate away from the freeway traffic stop. In their filings, the defense appears to quote directly from early emails between Noble and a group of prosecutors, including Moriarty. Now, Londregan’s attorneys are demanding the prosecution turn over all communications between the parties as they defend Londregan in court. 

Moriarty’s team responded in a statement Monday, that they reject the accusation "wholesale," writing it is simply "false" that Noble came to any final, legal conclusions, that early meetings with him were only preliminary discussions, and that Noble did not have the full record of what occurred. 

That statement read in part: 

The defense has selectively quoted a partial sentence of a lengthy document provided to them in the course of the confidential discovery process. The cherry-picked sentence excludes critical facts where the expert acknowledged information he would need to fully analyze the case. Specifically, the expert stated that he did not know the new use of force legal standard in Minnesota or how to interpret it, that he did not have a statement from Trooper Londregan, and that critical details related to Trooper Londregan’s training were missing. Additionally, he did not have the information from the three months of investigation that occurred after this preliminary conversation, including grand jury transcripts detailing the extensive training that Londregan received on how to effectively and safely handle traffic stops involving potential fleeing drivers.

Mitchell Hamline emeritus law professor Joseph Daly, who is a national arbitrator in police misconduct cases, told FOX 9, that if a use-of-force expert did, in fact, express an opinion that Cobb’s shooting could be justified, the case against Londregan could be in serious jeopardy.

"It seems to me that, based on the evidence now that exists, as a matter of law, you cannot get a conviction on this case. So, I might even consider dismissing the case if I were the judge," Daly said.

This case turned extremely political with the filings. A group of House Republican lawmakers called a Capitol news conference to demand the immediate resignation of the Hennepin County Attorney for how she came to her charging decision. Meantime, attorneys in the case are set to return to a Hennepin County courtroom in about 10 days to continue the arguments in front of Judge Tamara Garcia.