Dalvin Cook Sued by Ex-Girlfriend, Asserts “Castle Doctrine” Defense

(John Froschauer/AP)

At 7:15pm EST on Tuesday night, Adam Schefter tweeted that, according to Vikings RB Dalvin Cook’s agent, Cook is the victim of domestic abuse and extortion and that there is “pending litigation” regarding the incident(s). The phrase “pending litigation” seemed curious at the time, but a couple of hours later it was revealed that Cook is actually the defendant in civil lawsuit filed in Dakota County District Court.

The lawsuit, filed by Cook’s ex-girlfriend Gracelyn Trimble, accuses Cook of assault, battery, and false imprisonment. She is seeking monetary damages and “accountability”. Before the lawsuit was filed, the Star Tribune reported that Trimble and her lawyer held settlement discussions with Cook and his attorney, but no agreement was reached. Trimble, a Sgt. 1st Class in the U.S. Army, alleges that Cook physically abused her to the point of causing a concussion and a facial scar while holding her hostage in his home.

According to the claim, Trimble flew to Minnesota in November 2020 to break up with Cook and retrieve her belongings. Trimble claims that when she asked Cook for his help, he “grabbed her arm [and] slung her whole body over the couch, slamming her face into the coffee table and causing her lower forehead and the bridge of her nose to bust open.” Trimble says she then attempted to spray mace, which she grabbed from the garage before entering the home, at Cook but was unsuccessful. Although no police report was filed, Trimble received treatment for her injuries six days later, telling the doctors that she was injured in an ATV accident.

In stark contrast to Trimble’s claims, Cook says that he and his houseguests were in fact the victim of the assault. Cook alleges that, after a short-term relationship, Trimble “became emotionally abusive, physically aggressive and confrontational, and repeatedly attempted to provoke [him].” On the night in question, Cook claims that Trimble entered the house with a stolen garage door opener and immediately began to physically assault him by punching him and spraying mace in his eyes. The statement goes on to claim that while he was trying to stop the burning in his eyes, Trimble sprayed him a second time and then armed herself with a gun, holding Cook and his houseguests at gunpoint for several hours. The statement claims that Trimble suffered the cut above her nose when Cook tried to stop her from assaulting a female guest in the house.

These two stories are, quite obviously, very different from one another. However, Trimble also included screenshots from an Instagram conversation she had with Cook following the altercation where Cook appears to apologize and take blame. It is also relevant that Cook was previously accused of punching a woman outside of a bar while he was at Florida State, although he was found not guilty.

Cook: I know what I did can't be rewind but I just want you to know I'm sorry I love you so much despite you thinking I don't or never did but I do. Whatever you need I'm here for you! And if you wanna go to the police I'll respect that I'll take my punishment for what I did!
Trimble: Dalvin my face is so messed up I probably won't even get to see my family for Thanksgiving.
Cook: And I'm sorry for that! But the situation just got out of hand from the jump. Can you come back to me?

The statement from Cook’s attorney suggests that Cook will assert a claim of self-defense under the “Castle Doctrine”, which is a legal doctrine permitting people to use force to defend themselves against an intruder in their own home without legal consequence. Some states include a “duty to retreat” before a person can successfully invoke the doctrine. Minnesota is not one of those states, and there is no duty to retreat if a person is threatened in his or her own home.

The doctrine is not without its limitations. Under Minnesota law, you can protect yourself with force, even deadly force, only “when necessary in resisting or preventing an offense which the actor reasonably believes exposes the actor or another to great bodily harm or death, or preventing the commission of a felony in the actor’s place of abode.” Put simply, a person may defend themselves if they reasonably believe that the intruder is going to cause them harm or commit a felony. Cook will have to prove that he believed he was in enough danger to warrant his alleged physical response. Notably, the version of events told by Cook’s lawyer never mentions him responding with any physical force. Instead, it claims that he was the victim from the moment Trimble entered the home until the moment she left and that she was only injured when Cook tried to stop her from assaulting another person.

However, Cook may also choose to assert the defense on the grounds that he was trying to prevent the commission of a felony. According to both Trimble and Cook’s versions of events, Trimble grabbed the can of mace from the garage before she entered the home. Cook could very likely claim that any use of force was in response to him feeling threatened by her bringing a weapon into his home and using or threatening to use it, which may be permissible under the doctrine. Given the fact that settlement talks allegedly broke down before the lawsuit was filed and that the two parties are telling drastically different versions of events, we have certainly not heard the end of this story.

John Nucci is a 3L at Penn State Law and can be reached via Twitter @JNucci23 or by email at jzn57@psu.edu.