BCA, State Patrol conflict of interest question addressed ahead of creating independent Force Investigations Unit

I-94 shooting investigation debate

I-94 shooting investigation debate

Activists continue to question accountability in Ricky Cobb II death investigation

Speakers from several activist groups, leading a caravan rally to Gov. Tim Walz’s temporary residence on Sunday, continued to call on state leaders to fire and criminally charge the Minnesota State Patrol troopers involved in the shooting death of Ricky Cobb II nearly two weeks prior and again, questioned whether the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) can impartially investigate the actions of the troopers because both the BCA and State Patrol are state agencies that fall under the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

A 2020 law created the BCA’s Independent Use of Force Investigations Unit (FIU) to handle cases of officer use of force and deadly force, and it’s been standard practice since.

When it comes to conflicts of interest, though, the law only provides an alternate process for when a BCA officer is the subject of investigation.

“I could absolutely understand the concern from the community. I come from the community, obviously I’m a Black man,” said Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL – New Hope, in an interview unrelated to, and ahead of, the rally on Sunday.

Rep. Frazier was a part of brainstorming how the state could do better on police accountability and transparency back in 2019 as a community member and candidate for office at the time.

“That whole idea was to create something that was independent so we would get rid of the appearance, or idea, that there was a conflict, or that it was just law enforcement investigating itself,” Frazier explained.

In 2020, by the recommendation of the working group, the FIU was created through state law.

“Now, the unit is totally separate and has its own caseload,” Frazier added.

Three years later, the family and friends of Ricky Cobb II are raising accountability concerns with the Governor.

“The BCA needs to do a thorough investigation, and even whatever they bring back, we don’t trust that,” said Chauntyll Allen, a St. Paul School Board Member and Black Lives Matter activist.

“We want the governor to hold these officers accountable, not rubber stamp what looks like and sounds like incompetency on the part of those officers,” added Nekima Levy Armstrong, a lawyer and community activist.

A pair of experts, one specializing in constitutional law and the other in racial justice in policing, seconded the concerns last week, calling the BCA’s investigation into Cobb’s death a ‘clear conflict of interest.

Asked if there was a reason that this type of situation where a state trooper is involved was left out in the writing of the law, Rep. Frazier said, “We try to think of as many caveats as possible. We try to address those, we don’t always get it perfect, but we can go back and change that. That’s the beauty of making laws. But I do think that the reason that State Patrol probably was not included is because they are not members of BCA. They do not report up to the BCA, the BCA does not report up to the commander of the State Patrol, and I believe that is the separation that is there.”

The limited conflict of interest clause doesn’t appear to have been an oversight, Frazier said.

“I believe that was — again, I wasn’t at the Legislature — but looking at this and knowing how things work, and using my brain as a lawyer, I believe that was the idea,” he clarified.

The BCA, Governor, Attorney General and now Rep. Frazier have said that the best, most efficient path forward is to let the BCA finish it’s investigation which will then be reviewed by Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty’s office.

“I absolutely understand the perception and optics of a potential conflict here. But again, I’ll state that we put this in place and it came from a recommendation of multiple stakeholders,” Frazier said.

“I would say that we should let the investigation unfold, and we can deal with anything that happens after that when it comes out.”

Asked whether the questions over a conflict of interest will come during the 2024 Legislative Session, Frazier said, “I think there’s always an opportunity to have conversations around these issues. And I think that if, after this investigation, it appears to truly be an issue, we will have that conversation. Absolutely.”