Former Minnesota cop charged in shooting of Black motorist

Published 1:15 pm Wednesday, April 14, 2021

BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. (AP) — A prosecutor said Wednesday that he charged a white former suburban Minneapolis police officer with second-degree manslaughter for killing 20-year-old Black motorist Daunte Wright in a shooting that ignited days of unrest and clashes between protesters and police.

The charge against former Brooklyn Center police Officer Kim Potter was filed Wednesday, three days after Wright was killed during a traffic stop and as the nearby murder trial progresses for the ex-officer charged with killing George Floyd last May, Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said.

The former Brooklyn Center police chief has said that Potter, a 26-year veteran and training officer, intended to use her Taser on Wright but fired her handgun instead. However, protesters and Wright’s family members say there’s no excuse for the shooting and that it shows how the justice system is tilted against Blacks, noting Wright was stopped for expired car registration and ended up dead.

“Certain occupations carry an immense responsibility and none more so than a sworn police officer,” Imran Ali, Washington County assistant criminal division chief, said in a statement announcing the charge. “(Potter’s) action caused the unlawful killing of Mr. Wright and she must be held accountable.”

Ali said he and Orput met with Wright’s family and assured them that no resources would be spared in prosecuting the case.

Intent isn’t a necessary component of second-degree manslaughter in Minnesota. The charge — which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison — can be applied in circumstances where a person is suspected of causing a death by “culpable negligence” that creates an unreasonable risk and consciously takes chances to cause the death of a person.

Potter, 48, was arrested Wednesday morning at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in St. Paul. Her attorney did not immediately respond to messages from The Associated Press.

Potter and Police Chief Tim Gannon both resigned Tuesday.

Concrete barricades and tall metal fencing had been set up around Potter’s home in Champlin, north of Brooklyn Center, with police cars guarding the driveway. After Floyd’s death last year, protesters demonstrated several times at the home of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis officer now on trial in Floyd’s death.

Police say Wright was pulled over for expired tags on Sunday, but they sought to arrest him after discovering he had an outstanding warrant. The warrant was for his failure to appear in court on charges that he fled from officers and possessed a gun without a permit during an encounter with Minneapolis police in June.

Body camera video that Gannon released Monday shows Potter approaching Wright as he stands outside of his car as another officer is arresting him.
As Wright struggles with police, Potter shouts, “I’ll Tase you! I’ll Tase you! Taser! Taser! Taser!” before firing a single shot from a handgun in her right hand.

The news release announcing the charge noted that Potter holstered her handgun on the right side and her Taser on the left. The handles of each weapon faced to Potter’s rear. The Taser is yellow with a black grip and would require Potter to remove it from her holster with her left hand, the county attorney’s statement said.

Wright family attorney Ben Crump said the family appreciates the criminal case, but he again disputed that the shooting was accidental, arguing that an experienced officer knows the difference between a Taser and a handgun.

“Kim Potter executed Daunte for what amounts to no more than a minor traffic infraction and a misdemeanor warrant,” he said.

Experts say cases of officers mistakenly firing their gun instead of a Taser are rare, usually less than once a year nationwide.

Transit officer Johannes Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison after responding to a fight at a train station in Oakland, California, killing 22-year-old Oscar Grant in 2009. Mehserle testified at trial that he mistakenly pulled his .40-caliber handgun instead of his stun gun.

In Oklahoma, a white volunteer sheriff’s deputy for Tulsa County, Robert Bates, was convicted of second-degree manslaughter after accidentally firing his handgun when he meant to deploy his stun gun on Eric Harris, a Black man who was being held down by other officers in 2015.

Potter was an instructor with Brooklyn Center police, according to the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. She was training two other officers when they stopped Wright, the association’s leader, Brian Peters, told the Star Tribune.

On Tuesday night, hundreds of demonstrators again gathered at Brooklyn Center’s heavily guarded police headquarters, now ringed by concrete barriers and a tall metal fence, and where police in riot gear and National Guard soldiers stood watch.

About 90 minutes before a 10 p.m. curfew, state police announced over a loudspeaker that the gathering had been declared unlawful and ordered the crowds to disperse. Protesters launched fireworks toward the station and threw objects at officers, who launched flashbangs and gas grenades, then marched in a line to force back the crowd. The number of protesters plummeted over the next hour, until only a few remained. Police also ordered all media to leave.

Brooklyn Center, a suburb just north of Minneapolis, has seen its racial demographics shift dramatically in recent years. In 2000, more than 70% of the city was white. Today, a majority of residents are Black, Asian or Hispanic.

Mayor Mike Elliot t said Tuesday that he didn’t have at hand information on the police force’s racial diversity but that “we have very few people of color in our department.”