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Family of Minnesota man shot to death by state trooper in traffic stop files civil rights lawsuit

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LA Post: Family of Minnesota man shot to death by state trooper in traffic stop files civil rights lawsuit
April 17, 2024
STEVE KARNOWSKI - AP

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The family of a Minnesota man who was killed by a state trooper during a traffic stop filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Wednesday, alleging that the fatal shooting was unjustified and unlawful.

The lawsuit names Troopers Ryan Londregan, who shot Ricky Cobb II, and Brett Seide, who made the initial stop. Londregan, a white officer, was already facing murder charges for killing Cobb, a Black man, in what has become a politically charged case in the city where the murder of George Floyd by police nearly four years ago sparked global protests demanding racial justice.

“Ricky Cobb was a productive citizen of this community, and we will not let you vilify him,” family attorney Bakari Sellers said at a news conference. “We will not let you punish him in his death. We want him to be allowed to rest in peace. And today is another step in the journey of bringing those officers who caused his death to justice.”

Londregan's lawyer, Chris Madel, disputed the allegations, which parallel the charges in the separate criminal case.

“We will fight the civil lawsuit with the same vigor that we’ve fought the criminal matter,” Madel said.

Family attorney F. Clayton Tyler told reporters they named only the two troopers in the lawsuit because the state would be immune under federal law. But they don't rule out filing a separate action later in state court naming the State Patrol, after they gather more evidence, or updating the allegations in the federal lawsuit.

The sequence of events alleged in the lawsuit mirrors the criminal complaint. Seide and one other trooper pulled the 33-year-old Cobb over on Interstate 94 last July 31 because the lights were out on his car. Seide checked the Spring Lake Park man's record and found he was wanted for violating a protection order in neighboring Ramsey County. Officials there asked the troopers to arrest Cobb.

Londregan arrived to assist. They asked Cobb to get out. Seide told Cobb he was under arrest while Londregan reached inside and began opening the passenger door. The criminal complaint said Cobb then shifted into drive and took his foot off the brake. Cobb’s car began to slowly move forward. Londregan reached for his gun, and Cobb stopped the car.

The trooper pointed his gun at Cobb and yelled at him to get out. Cobb took his foot off the brake again. In less than a second, Londregan fired his handgun twice at Cobb, striking him both times in the chest, the complaint alleges. The car kept moving until striking a concrete median about a quarter-mile (400 meters) away. Cobb died at the scene.

The lawsuit argues that it was unreasonable for Londregan to shoot, that neither trooper had a reasonable suspicion that Cobb posed any threat to them, and that both he and Seide acted contrary to State Patrol policy and their training. The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages.

Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty, a former chief public defender for the county, who was elected as its top prosecutor in 2022 on a platform of police accountability in the wake of Floyd's murder, has faced unprecedented pushback from politicians and law enforcement for charging Londregan. Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, who has met with the Cobb family, has expressed concern but has not acted on demands that he take the case away from the county attorney and turn it over to state Attorney General Keith Ellison.

The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association on Tuesday released a letter to the governor renewing those calls, accompanied by sworn statements from two of Londregan's State Patrol trainers who said they believe that he acted lawfully to save his partners, in accordance with the agency's use-of-force policies. The letter, from the association's executive director, Brian Peterson, noted that one use-of-force expert who looked at the case for Moriarty's office also concluded that Londregan was justified in his actions.

Republicans in the state's congressional delegation on Tuesday called on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee to investigate the decision to charge the trooper, alleging “a deliberate attempt to use the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office to target members of the law enforcement community.”

Sellers said one reason they family held its news conference at the county courthouse was to show support for Moriarty.

“We believe that she should keep this case,” Sellers said. “We appreciate her transparency. We appreciate the fact that she’s been open and honest with this family."

Cobb's twin brother, Rashad Cobb, called for unity and love, not hate, and for putting politics aside.

“We as a family put God first, and we see the ugliness come out of the people that we expect to protect and serve,” Cobb said. “And we only ask for something that’s our right. We’re not talking about white and Black here. There’s no color when you’re talking about wrong and right.”

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