Gov. Tim Walz said Monday that the "option is always open" to remove the murder case against a state trooper from Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty and reassign it to Attorney General Keith Ellison.

"But I want to be very clear that this is a serious step in terms of our justice system ... I still believe juries, and I still believe jurors can do the right thing and justice can be served," Walz said when asked about the case in a news conference about the budget at the Capitol.

The governor expressed concerns, as first reported by Axios, over Moriarty's handling of the case against trooper Ryan Londregan, who shot motorist Ricky Cobb II last summer during a traffic stop on Interstate 94 in north Minneapolis. Law enforcement groups and Minnesota House Republicans recently called for Moriarty to be taken off the case after controversy came to light in court filings last week from Londregan's defense attorneys.

The filings reveal how Moriarty's independent use-of-force expert initially opined that a reasonable officer would have acted like Londregan did to protect his partner, who was being dragged as Cobb's car lurched forward. Moriarty had announced that an expert opinion was critical to making her charging decision, but she stopped working with the expert and later charged Londregan with second-degree murder, manslaughter and first-degree assault.

Walz questioned that process: "As a layman on this, why would you not listen to a use-of-force expert? Why would that not be central to something you would do?" Walz said.

The governor said he's been talking to legal experts and "there's a lot of confusion and controversy of what's happened so far in this case, and I just want to make sure it's fair."

Judge Tamara Garcia will hear arguments on the expert Thursday.

In response to Walz's comments, Moriarty's office issued a statement Monday morning.

"Like in every case, we have been extremely thorough in this investigation and we will continue to be as we prepare this case for a potential trial. We would be happy to meet with the governor or his team to discuss any concerns they have about the rules of criminal procedure — the same rules our office follows and fulfills in thousands of cases every year. Otherwise, we will litigate this case in court, which is where it belongs."

County attorney spokesman Nick Kimball said last week that use-of-force expert testimony still could be used before a jury, but the office was able to determine appropriate charges without a full report from the expert, Jeffrey Noble, a former police chief from California.

Ellison told the Star Tribune at the Capitol Monday morning, before Walz's press conference, that his office is "just looking into a lot of this at this point" and that the situation is "up in the air."

"We're reviewing it, and we don't know what's going to happen yet," Ellison said, adding that one complicating factor is that his office represents every state agency, including Minnesota state troopers.

"And so it does present a bit of a conflict, because you can't prosecute your own client, right?" he said.

"If there's a lawsuit against the troopers because of this action, we will be defending that," he said. "And on the other hand, we may be being asked to prosecute, so it creates real complication."

As to whether Ellison could handle such conflicts, Walz said the office deals with these cases all the time.

"While it's true they do represent the State Patrol, they also have firewalls over there where they can call up their attorneys who would be able to have that capacity," he said.

Case reassignment

At issue is whether Londregan was justified in shooting Cobb.

Londregan and a fellow trooper were being dragged as Cobb's vehicle lurched forward during a traffic stop. Londregan fired at Cobb twice and the vehicle sped off and the troopers fell to the ground. Cobb was fatally wounded.

The State Patrol's general orders of operation prohibit shooting at moving vehicles, except when deadly force is authorized.

The governor has statutory authority to reassign any criminal case from any county attorney. But that has happened only twice in modern history.

In the 1990s, the governor stepped in to request the attorney general take over a criminal sexual conduct case in Crow Wing County. Then last year, Ellison requested Walz assign him a high-profile murder case from Moriarty, despite her fierce objections. Walz agreed.

The family of Zaria McKeever had begged Ellison for weeks to take over the case, after Moriarty offered what they felt were lenient plea deals to the teenagers charged with murder in a fatal home invasion.

Moriarty said Ellison's decision to take that case was "undemocratic" and "undermines the longstanding constitutional authority, autonomy and responsibility of elected prosecutors."

When the family of murder victim Stephen Markey — who was gunned down by teenagers during an attempted 2019 carjacking in Minneapolis — asked Walz and Ellison to intervene in 2023, the state's top officials balked.

Walz's spokesperson said his process is to only reassign a case to Ellison at the AG's request. Ellison said that McKeever's killing would be the only time he asked Walz to assign him a case.

"Ultimately, all elected officials, including county attorneys, are accountable to voters for their decisions," Ellison said when declining to take the Markey murder case in September.

Police killing cases

Cases used to only change hands at the request of the county attorney in police killings. Ellison took over the prosecution of ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd. He also handled the prosecution of ex-Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter in the shooting death of Daunte Wright.

The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA), a trade association representing Minnesota public safety professionals, sent a letter to Walz calling on him to take the case away from Moriarty. The association's defense fund is paying Londregan's attorneys. The March 18 letter said the association was not requesting special treatment in favor of an MPPOA member because Ellison "can hardly be accused of a bias in favor of law enforcement."

"Trooper Londregan, like any Minnesotan accused of a crime, deserves to have any possible charges considered by a prosecutor concerned with justice, not a personal political agenda," the letter states.

"There is a crisis of confidence in the elected leadership who are supposed to be partners in making our communities safer but instead seek to score political points through charging every police officer whom circumstances compel to use deadly force, regardless of the evidence."

Kimball, the County Attorney's spokesperson, said in a statement that the crisis in confidence "is because of well-documented and horrific instances where some officers abused their power and used unauthorized force."

"These abuses have fallen disproportionately upon the shoulders of Black and brown Minnesotans. It is unfortunate to see MPPOA fail to acknowledge this history and fail to try to repair it."