Supporters, opponents of Minnesota trooper charged with murder confront each other at courthouse

Minnesota State Trooper Ryan Londregan's attorney Chris Madel is drowned out by protesters after a hearing for his client at the Hennepin County Government Center on Monday, April 29, 2024, in Minneapolis, Minn. Longdregan is charged with killing Ricky Cobb II during a during a traffic stop in the summer of 2023. (AP Photo/Mark Vancleace)

By STEVE KARNOWSKI Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Supporters and critics of a white Minnesota state trooper who’s charged with murder for killing a Black motorist confronted each other at a courthouse Monday in an exchange that was heated but peaceful, reflecting the strong emotions that the politically charged case has generated.

More than 300 people, including law enforcement officers from several agencies, gathered in the Hennepin County Government Center in solidarity with Trooper Ryan Londregan ahead of a pretrial hearing in his case. He’s charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter and assault for fatally shooting Ricky Cobb II as Cobb tried to drive away from a traffic stop last summer. A similarly large crowd aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement shouted down an attempt by Londregan’s defense team to hold a news conference afterward.

“Trooper Londregan followed his training,” defense attorney Chris Madel was able to tell reporters. He noted that the defense team filed sworn declarations from four current and former troopers who say Londregan’s use of deadly force was justified. Madel also called for “a prosecutor who cares about the facts more than they do about yelling,” before the shouts of “Whose streets? Our streets” grew too loud.

“No good cops in a racist system,” the protesters also chanted. “No justice, no peace. Prosecute the police.”

Four former federal prosecutors from the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Steptoe LLC will be deputized to take over the case from the office of Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty after the original leader of the prosecution team stepped away from the case, said Chris Freeman, managing attorney for the office’s adult prosecution division.

Freeman did not address news reports that Assistant County Attorney Joshua Larson had removed himself as lead prosecutor, but confirmed to Judge Tamara Garcia that Larson is no longer on the case.

Moriarty later said in a statement that she would retain full authority over the case and pay the attorneys out of her existing budget. She named Karima Maloney, Michael Bromwich, Ryan Poscablo and Steven Levin as the new team.

Law enforcement and Republican leaders have been calling on Democratic Gov. Tim Walz to take the case away from Moriarty, a former public defender who was elected on a platform of police accountability following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis officer in 2020, and turn it over to Democratic Attorney General Keith Ellison. Walz has expressed concern about the direction of the case but has not acted.

In a jab at the incoming prosecution team, Madel told reporters they’d rather the case went to “somebody who cares about justice more than hourly fees.”

The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association organized a show of support for Londregan before the hearing. The crowd, including many people wearing T-shirts proclaiming his innocence, greeted him with loud cheers and sustained applause as he and his defense team entered the courthouse.

Troopers pulled the 33-year-old Cobb over on Interstate 94 in Minneapolis on July 31 because the lights were out on his car. They found that the Spring Lake Park man was wanted for violating a protection order in neighboring Ramsey County. Londregan arrived to assist. They were telling Cobb to get out when he shifted into drive and took his foot off the brake. Cobb’s car began to slowly move forward. Londregan reached for his gun. Cobb stopped. Londregan pointed his gun at Cobb and yelled at him to get out. Cobb took his foot off the brake again while another trooper’s torso was at least partially in the car. Londregan then fired twice at Cobb, striking him both times in the chest, the criminal complaint says.

Cobb’s family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit two weeks ago, alleging that the stop and shooting were unjustified.

The judge set two dates for future hearings. The new prosecution team will introduce itself to the court at 1:30 p.m. on May 15, and there will be a fuller hearing June 10 at 9 a.m. to set a trial date and discuss motions by the defense to dismiss the charges for lack of probable cause and alleged prosecution misconduct.

Arguing that the charges lack sufficient grounds, Madel noted during the hearing that the prosecution has yet to name an expert witness who could testify that Londregan’s actions weren’t justified. Garcia said they can discuss a deadline for disclosure of prosecution expert witnesses at the May 15 hearing.

The misconduct allegation includes the defense claim that the criminal complaint filed by prosecutors misrepresented statements by the Minnesota State Patrol’s lead use-of-force trainer, by omitting that expert’s conclusion that Londregan did nothing wrong.