Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
Despite years of protests and changes in law enforcement protocols, yet another Black man is dead after an encounter with officers. Yet as emotionally challenging and socially divisive as it might be, once again community members must allow the investigations and legal process to play out.
Ricky Cobb II, of Plymouth, died of gunshot wounds early Monday in Minneapolis, shortly after being pulled over by state troopers for driving without taillights. During the stop along Interstate 94 in north Minneapolis, troopers learned that the 33-year-old was wanted for questioning in relation to an alleged "felony-level violation" of a standing domestic order for protection in Ramsey County.
State officials rightly took swift action following the tragically fatal encounter. Within 48 hours, the Minnesota State Patrol released body- and dashcam videos of the incident. And on Thursday, the BCA identified the officers who were involved. State troopers Ryan Londregan, Brett Seide and Garrett Erickson were on the scene.
Londregan opened the passenger side door and Seide opened the driver's side door to get Cobb to exit the vehicle. While they were attempting to pull Cobb from the car, Londregan fired multiple shots as Cobb's hand moved toward the gear shift. The car rolled forward, knocking down two troopers. Numerous questions remain about the shooting, among them whether the vehicle was in motion before or after shots were fired.
Details continue to emerge, which is a reminder that no one should try to predict the outcome of the case now. On Thursday, according to a Star Tribune story, officials investigating the shooting said they found two cartridge casings, a cellphone and handgun on the floor behind the center console in the back of Cobb's vehicle, but none of the videos released so far show him holding a gun.
Consistent with law enforcement procedure, all three officers are on administrative leave. The BCA is leading the investigation into the incident. Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty will face one of the most serious decisions in her tenure so far when she eventually decides whether lethal force was justified.
The grief goes beyond that of a family that lost a loved one. There's also an all-too-familiar sense of pain and frustration among community members.
Some community members, including Black citizens who feel a distinctive sense of loss, want the troopers to be fired immediately. Although their pleas are understandable, they're also premature. All of us should allow the investigative and legal processes to take their course.
That includes our elected officials. It's unfortunate, and counterproductive, that U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) wrote in the aftermath of Cobb's death that, "Law enforcement is a very difficult and risky job, but shootings like this are unjustifiable and more must be done to prevent them."
It's worth noting that it's not a foregone conclusion that there will be no consequences for officers and their departments in these situations. The day after Cobb was killed, a federal jury awarded $11.5 million to the family of Cordale Handy, a Black man who was shot by two St. Paul police officers. In addition, during the past decade officers involved in high-profile deaths have been held accountable and done jail time, while in other incidents juries of peers have found law enforcement officers not guilty.
Twin Cities legal commentator Joe Tamburino told an editorial writer that under laws governing excessive force, the officers operated legally in both stopping Cobb and asking him to get out of his car. However, he agreed with the analysis of other legal experts who say what's known about the case at this point is not definitive.
In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota said the videos "do not show why the officers shot Mr. Cobb. And certainly not a clear justification for deadly force." The organization also called for an independent investigation, arguing that the BCA should not conduct the probe because it is managed by the same state agency as the troopers — the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
We hope that Moriarty, who will receive the findings of the BCA, will bring a critical eye to the investigative work and let the public know if she has qualms about how it was conducted.
The state ACLU also commented that, "Traffic stops should not be death sentences." We agree. But we also urge all Minnesotans to let the BCA and Moriarty do their jobs.