Credibility on trial in trooper's case

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Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty's decision to charge a Minnesota state trooper with manslaughter in connection with a traffic stop has been challenged like few other local cases in recent history.

Moriarty charged trooper Ryan Londregan with second-degree murder, manslaughter and assault in the fatal shooting of Ricky Cobb II last July during a traffic stop on Interstate 94 in north Minneapolis. Now Londregan's lawyers say the county attorney failed to disclose key information from a use-of-force expert and have asked a district court judge to require release of that information. Hennepin County District Judge Tamara Garcia heard arguments Thursday.

More recently, filings in the case indicate that the prosecution's independent use-of-force expert, Jeffrey Noble, first reported that the trooper acted reasonably when he shot Cobb as his vehicle moved forward with another officer inside the passenger side window. And the State Patrol's own use-of-force trainer said in a new affidavit that Londregan followed policy, and his previous statements to prosecutors were taken out of context.

The controversy surrounding key evidence in the case is troubling, and the multiple concerns that have been raised about disclosure merit further review.

Gov. Tim Walz has publicly questioned Moriarty's handling of the case, and state Attorney General Keith Ellison said he is studying the issues even though he serves as a representative of state agencies, which he has acknowledged could pose a conflict of interest.

Walz has the authority to intervene and reassign the case to Ellison. Following Thursday's hearing, the governor said he remains concerned and that "there's nuances in this to make sure we're following the law. … I am concerned that justice be carried out fairly for everyone. And we'll continue to take a look at it."

Additionally, a bipartisan group of Minnesota's congressional representatives has called for the case to be reassigned, with Democratic Reps. Angie Craig and Dean Phillips joining the four Republicans in the delegation.

"Minnesotans deserve to have confidence in our state's criminal justice process, and recent disclosures in this case have seriously damaged that process," Craig said this week. "This action would help restore public confidence and ensure an objective review of the case is completed."

In response, a statement from Moriarty's office after Thursday's hearing called on elected officials and others to "refrain from creating more confusion by commenting on the ongoing case." It went on to say that "their comments disregard the established legal process, politicize the case, threaten the possibility of a fair trial, and ignore that there is a grieving family that is watching this unfold in the press."

Former Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner told an editorial writer that the proper place for all the evidence to be reviewed is in court in front of a jury — not through statements from both sides in the media. She added that county attorneys are elected for a reason — they are supposed to make decisions on behalf of the electorate. If citizens are unhappy with Moriarty's decisions, they can vote to replace when she is up for re-election.

But attorney and legal consultant Joe Tamburino said in an interview that Moriarty violated statutes in her handling of information gathered in discovery. He said the prosecution "has a duty" to divulge all materials that could help exonerate Londregan.

Understandably, supporters of the charging decision cite the long history of the justice system supporting law enforcement in similar cases. For years, officers were not held accountable in controversial use-of-force cases that resulted in the deaths of people of color.

It's also not surprising that Moriarty — a former public defender who focused on law enforcement accountability in her campaign for county attorney — would face even more scrutiny. The Star Tribune Editorial Board was concerned about her ability to effectively transition to the role of the county's top prosecutor when it endorsed her opponent in 2022.

Gaertner is correct that voters ultimately will decide whether Moriarty deserves more time in office, presuming she seeks re-election. But Londregan can't wait that long for a fair trial, nor should Cobb's family have to question whether justice will be served.

We'll reserve judgment on next steps until we hear more from Judge Garcia. But the possibility of removing the case from Moriarty's office should remain on the table if that's what it will take for the majority of Minnesotans to trust that it's being handled appropriately.