BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. – The former Minnesota police officer who shot and killed Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop was charged Wednesday with second-degree manslaughter, a prosecutor said.
Washington County Attorney Pete Orput charged Kim Potter, a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center Police Department, in the shooting Sunday that has inflamed racial tensions in this city just miles from where George Floyd died during a police arrest last May.
“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. “We … intend to prove that Officer Potter abrogated her responsibility to protect the public when she used her firearm rather than her taser. Her action caused the unlawful killing of Mr. Wright and she must be held accountable.”
Agents with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension arrested Potter on Wednesday morning, Jill Oliveira, a spokeswoman for the bureau, said in a statement. Potter, 48, was taken into custody before noon at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in St. Paul, Oliveira said. Online records for Hennepin County jail showed she was being held without bail.
Potter resigned Tuesday as calls for justice for Wright echoed throughout Minnesota. She is scheduled to make her first court appearance Thursday afternoon.
Tim Gannon, the city’s former police chief who also resigned Tuesday, said Potter accidentally grabbed her firearm when she thought she was using her Taser on Wright. Wright’s family has rejected police’s characterization of their son’s death as an accident and called for Potter to be held accountable.
If found guilty, Potter faces up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, according to Minnesota law.
“While we appreciate that the district attorney is pursuing justice for Daunte, no conviction can give the Wright family their loved one back,” Ben Crump, a civil rights lawyer representing Wright’s family, said in a statement with co-counsel Jeff Storms and Antonio Romanucci.
“This was no accident. This was an intentional, deliberate and unlawful use of force,” the statement said.
The Hennepin County medical examiner said Wright died of a gunshot wound to the chest and ruled his death a homicide.
“A badge should never be a shield to accountability,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said. “Daunte Wright was brutally killed by a police officer, and justice must prevail.”
The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office handed over any charging decision to Orput earlier this week as the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigates the case. Local prosecutors in the Minneapolis area agreed last year to refer cases involving police use of deadly force to prosecutors in other jurisdictions.
Explanation for shooting ‘ain’t meeting the smell test’
After another night of protests and arrests, leaders of the Black community around the Twin Cities questioned whether a manslaughter charge against Potter is sufficient – and whether she can be convicted.
Nakima Levy Armstrong, an activist and former president of the NAACP’s Minneapolis chapter, said it’s hard to believe Potter shot Wright by mistake considering her experience and role as a police trainer.
“She needs to be charged with murder and not just manslaughter,” Levy Armstrong said. “Heightened authority should bring heightened accountability under the law.”
Jerry McAfee, pastor of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis, said he does not expect Potter to be convicted because her defense will argue there was no intent and she simply made a mistake.
“How you can’t tell a Taser from a Glock is beyond me if you’re a 26-year veteran,” McAfee said. “That ain’t meeting the smell test.”
Another pastor, Bishop Harding Smith of the Spiritual Church of God in nearby Robbinsdale, said he’s agonized over the latest police slaying because he knew Potter, Wright and others involved with the case.
“For me, as a man of God, I’m struggling with the death of this young man,” Smith said. “It’s like sticking a knife into a sore wound.”
Mayor Elliott: ‘Your voices have been heard’
Elliott said curfew for Brooklyn Center has been extended again, from 10 p.m. Wednesday until 6 a.m. Thursday, after confrontations with police Tuesday night led to about 60 arrests. He also pledged to seek justice for Wright.
“I share our community’s anger and sadness and shock,” Elliott said, adding that he had a message for protesters. “Your voices have been heard. Now the eyes of the world are watching Brooklyn Center, and I urge you to protest peacefully and without violence.”
Wright’s death sparked protests around Minneapolis, an area already on edge as the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin in Floyd’s death was in its third week of testimony. Brooklyn Center is about 10 miles north of Minneapolis.
Potter is being represented by Earl Gray, a lawyer who also represents Thomas Lane, a former Minneapolis police officer charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death.
Floyd’s family joined Wright’s family at a news conference Tuesday organized by Crump, at which both families called for more accountability for police officers.
“I never imagined this was what was going to happen,” Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, said Tuesday as she recounted the final moments of her son’s life.
Katie Wright said her son called her after he was pulled over and told her police said he had air fresheners in his rearview mirror. Police said they stopped Wright for an expired registration.
Wright had an outstanding warrant, prompting officers to ask him to get out of his vehicle, police said. Katie Wright said she heard the encounter unfold over the phone before being disconnected. When she called back, the woman in the car with Wright answered with a video call and showed Wright sitting lifeless in the driver’s seat.
Potter’s body-camera footage, released Monday, showed Potter approach Wright as another officer had started arresting him. Wright pulled away and reentered the car in a scuffle, and Potter drew her firearm. Potter is heard shouting, “I’ll Tase you! I’ll Tase you! Taser! Taser! Taser!” before firing, then expressing surprise that she had shot him.
Wright’s family and many in the Brooklyn Center community have called into question how Potter could not have realized she was holding her firearm. At a news conference Monday, Gannon said officers are trained to keep their firearm on their dominant side and their Taser on the other.
“After 26 years, you would think you would know what side your gun is on and what side your Taser is on,” Crump said Tuesday. “You know the weight of your gun and the weight of your Taser.”
There have been at least 15 other cases of “weapons confusion” in the United States since 2001, and Wright is the fourth person to have died in such incidents, according to data compiled by the website FatalEncounters.org and University of Colorado professor Paul Taylor, who tracks such cases.
Contributing: Elinor Aspergen