Arriving by the busload, hundreds of people filled the Minneapolis courthouse Monday morning in a show of solidarity for Minnesota state trooper Ryan Londregan, briefly clashing with a smaller but vocal contingent demanding justice for the motorist he shot and killed last summer.

Wearing burgundy T-shirts with the slogan "Trooper Londregan is innocent," the group of off-duty law enforcement members and other supporters recited a prayer in the atrium of the Hennepin County Government Center and cheered when Londregan walked by on his way to court.

"I can't begin to comprehend what he and his family are going through," said Gina Loperfido, who stood by the rotating glass doors in the rotunda clutching a homemade sign saying, "We ♥ you" — a last message she hoped Londregan might see on his way up to the courtroom.

Londregan appeared Monday for an omnibus hearing related to charges of murder, manslaughter and assault in the fatal shooting of motorist Ricky Cobb II during a traffic stop on Interstate 94 in north Minneapolis. Troopers pulled Cobb over for driving without tail lights but soon learned he was wanted for violating a domestic no-contact order. He didn't follow commands to exit his vehicle and put the car into drive, causing it to lurch forward as Londregan and a colleague were partially inside trying to remove Cobb.

Londregan fired his service weapon, striking Cobb twice. Trooper Brett Seide has said that he feared for his safety and Londregan protected him. Several use-of-force experts have offered opinions that Londregan was justified in the shooting because he was protecting Seide.

In a city that four years ago became ground zero for protests and riots against police use of force, the case against Londregan has elicited a strong reaction from pro-law enforcement groups, who have showed up in droves to protest what they call unjust charges. At Londregan's first court appearance in January, more than 100 people gathered outside the courthouse in solidarity with the trooper. The crowd mushroomed for Monday's hearing after various organizations put out calls on social media.

Supporters, activists meet in lobby

As the hearing began upstairs, a small group of counterprotesters gathered in the lobby, shouting, "We don't like killer cops." Some of Londregan's supporters argued with them; many turned their backs, and a few others began singing "God Bless America" as courthouse security tried to clear a path for pedestrians using the busy skyway level to get to work on a rainy morning.

Video (01:07) Hundreds of supporters rally at courthouse as Minnesota State trooper appears for murder hearing

"Justice for Ricky Cobb!" a man shouted as he walked through the crowd of Londregan supporters. Police reform activists continued chanting as Hennepin County sheriff's deputies called for backup and organizers instructed Londregan's supporters to cluster on the other end of the atrium.

Rashad Cobb emerged to speak with a growing crowd of demonstrators, many of whom, like him, donned red T-shirts with a picture of his late brother.

"He was going home," Cobb said of his twin. "Who kills someone going home?"

While they waited for the two-hour hearing to wrap, several Cobb supporters mingled among the law enforcement crowd attempting to engage in a civil dialogue.

Brixton Hughes, an independent street videographer, chatted with a man who believes there's a "false narrative" about the deadly traffic stop. Hughes responded by sharing his opinion that troopers should have waited to remove Cobb from the vehicle until they could "resolve the situation without violence."

They debated about law enforcement training and ultimately "disagreed about what the video showed," Hughes, 62, told the Star Tribune. "I wasn't looking for a fight."

Up in the quiet courtroom, Londregan sat beside defense attorneys with his wife, parents and members of a law enforcement trade union behind him. Across the aisle, Cobb's family filled the first two rows.

A managing attorney in the Hennepin County Attorney's Office, Chris Freeman, sat alone at the prosecutor's table in court following a recent shake-up in the legal team. A senior prosecutor who played key roles in prosecuting former officers Derek Chauvin and Kim Potter walked away from Londregan's case.

Freeman said that a team of four former federal prosecutors from the Washington, D.C.-based international law firm Steptoe LLP will serve as special assistant county attorneys. He said he was filling in Monday in a managerial role and that the "transition will happen very shortly."

County Attorney Mary Moriarty announced that her office retained the outside legal counsel as the hearing was underway.

"These former federal prosecutors with impeccable credentials will be singularly focused on this case while the rest of our team continues the critical work of prosecuting the high volume of other serious cases that are central to safety in our community," Moriarty said in a statement, which added that the legal team will be paid through the county attorney's existing budget.

The new legal team will appear in court May 15 to go over scheduling, followed by a hearing June 10 to continue arguments over probable cause.

Probable cause arguments

In written and oral arguments before Judge Tamara Garcia, the parties took opposing stances on whether enough facts and circumstances exist to support the charges against Londregan. His attorneys are asking Garcia to dismiss for lack of probable cause on the grounds that he was justified in killing Cobb.

"Is it fair and reasonable for this man to stand trial?" defense attorney Chris Madel asked Garcia several times throughout the two-hour hearing.

Madel said it's up to Garcia to stand between the government and the accused, and that a judge needs to serve as an arbitrator. Otherwise any use-of-force case would head straight to trial "on the whim of a county attorney," he said.

Freeman said in court filings that's the same argument lawyers for Chauvin and Potter made over the police killings of George Floyd and Daunte Wright. Like the judges in both cases, Garcia should also reject it because a jury decides if an officer's use of force was justified, Freeman said.

Further, the state says allowing that defense argument at an omnibus hearing would turn it into a bench trial and that such argument should be reserved for a contested hearing at a later date.

On the other hand, defense attorneys argue that state law allows affirmative defenses at omnibus hearings, and it's happened before. The legal team made reference to a 2006 decision by Kevin Burke, former chief judge of Hennepin County, dismissing misdemeanor charges against former Minnesota Viking Daunte Culpepper, the quarterback accused of lewd acts in the infamous Lake Minnetonka boat-party sex scandal.

Burke ruled that Culpepper's alibi and another witness would exonerate him of the charges, so he dismissed the case.

Madel and co-counsel Peter Wold and Todd Hennen listed a number of experts from across the country who are ready to testify that Londregan didn't violate policy and that his actions were reasonable.

Londregan also intends to testify. Madel said the trooper's testimony will include his experience reporting for his regular shift July 31 and responding to Seide's traffic stop of Cobb. Seide already testified before a grand jury that Londregan "saved his life," Madel told the court.

Freeman said there will be expert testimony for the prosecution but did not disclose a name. The office previously retained a use-of-force expert who offered that Londregan acted reasonably. Moriarty told him to stop working on the case.

After the hearing ended, Londregan's supporters and counterprotesters thronged the middle of the lobby, as deputies struggled to keep the groups separate. Those supporting the prosecution climbed on benches and planters, chanting loudly to drown out Londregan's attorney when he tried to talk to reporters.

Moments later, a few shoves were exchanged as tensions flared — and one police reform activist slapped a phone out of a Londregan supporter's hand.

The pair eventually went their separate ways.