Rush to judgment serves no one

The incident

On Monday morning at about 2 a.m., Minnesota State Troopers stopped Ricky Cobb II, 33, on I-94 in North Minneapolis for reportedly driving without rear taillights. Once stopped and ID’d, the troopers received information that Ramsey County had issued a probable cause pick up for Cobb related to an incident on the previous Friday in which Cobb violated a Domestic Abuse No Contact Order (DANCO).

See redacted body cam video of the event released by the State Patrol on Tuesday here.

Troopers then re-approached Cobb’s car and asked him to step out as they needed to discuss an incident that happened in Ramsey County. Cobb appeared to know which incident they were referring to as he disputed the need to step out of the car or give the troopers his keys.

Troopers calmly tried to verbally order Cobb from his car for 1:20 seconds. The trooper at the driver’s door had to stand a foot or more into the lane of traffic on I-94 during this time, making it extremely dangerous, especially at 2:00 am.

After 1:20 seconds, Cobb continued to refuse to exit, so troopers opened Cobb’s driver and passenger doors and a trooper reached in to undo Cobb’s seat belt. Cobb put the car in drive and began to pull away quickly. Troopers escalated their commands and attempted to stop Cobb from fleeing. Two troopers were partially inside Cobb’s car when he pulled away at a high rate of speed. The trooper in the passenger door fired multiple shots in quick succession at Cobb while both troopers tumbled out onto I-94 as Cobb fled. The action of being thrown from the car was violent enough to knock the body camera off of the uniform of the officer who fell out of the passenger side of Cobb’s car. Both officers were in danger of being run over by Cobb’s car as they fell to the ground and rolled.

Troopers then gave chase and ended up pinning Cobb’s car to the center barrier a short distance north on I-94. Cobb had been struck by the troopers’ gunfire and became unresponsive and later died as a result of the gunfire.

The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension was called in immediately to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation.

A review of Cobb’s criminal history reveals a man who has had multiple domestic assault-related incidents in several counties that have resulted in multiple arrests and convictions dating back to 2013. The incidents have also included fleeing police in a motor vehicle and several warrants issued due to Cobb’s failure to appear in court as ordered.  We now know a handgun was found on the rear floorboard during a search of Cobb’s car, making all the more clear why he was not going to cooperate with police, as an arrest meant a likely prison sentence.

This information is important in evaluating Cobb’s state of mind during the fatal incident, but the information was not known to the troopers dealing with Cobb Monday morning.

Release of Body Cam Video

Col. Matt Langer of the State Patrol made the decision to release portions of the body cam video on Tuesday. State law mandates that all investigative data remain non-public until the investigation is complete, unless the chief law enforcement officer believes releasing portions of the data, such as body came video, would have a public benefit. See Minnesota State Statute 13.82 Sub 15:

Any law enforcement agency may make any data classified as confidential or protected nonpublic pursuant to subdivision 7 or as private or nonpublic under section 13.825 or 626.19 accessible to any person, agency, or the public if the agency determines that the access will aid the law enforcement process, promote public safety, or dispel widespread rumor or unrest.

The decision to release body cam video prior to the completion of investigations is becoming too commonplace, and represents a reaction to activist voices rather than an effort to maintain the impartial investigative process or serve justice. 

There is a time and place for it, especially when outright lies and misinformation are occurring, but this wasn’t the case here.

Unfortunately, the good intentions of releasing the video have done nothing but increase inaccurate speculation, and have increased tensions between the black community and law enforcement, not reduced them.

Cobb’s family and others are calling for the troopers involved to be immediately fired and arrested.

Continuing to release video prematurely and without complete context only makes future decisions to release discretionary data or maintain investigative integrity all the more difficult. The expectation from activists has been further cemented.

Rush to judgment 

Our politicians aren’t helping. 

In a troubling statement lacking all measure of respect for the impartial investigative process, US Representative Dean Phillips Tweeted after viewing the truncated video that the incident was “unjustifiable” and represented “another senseless loss of life” by law enforcement.

This type of rush to judgment is reprehensible from our elected officials. They should, and let’s be honest, they do know better, but seem incapable of restraining themselves.

We would all be better off if authorities remained resolute and maintained the integrity of the investigative process. As someone who has investigated dozens of officer-involved shootings, I know firsthand the complexities of these cases, and the painstaking efforts required to collect, process, analyze, and report the facts and evidence to the reviewing legal authority — most often the local county attorney. Incidents like this involving multiple troopers, two scenes, substantial body cam and dash cam video can take several months to investigate.

The last thing an investigation of this importance needs is the piecemeal release of information that only leads to speculation and rushes to judgment. Everyone involved in this investigation deserves better — that includes not only Cobb and his family, but the involved troopers and their families.