A Minnesota police chief said Monday he believes an officer wanted to use a Taser, but mistakenly drew a service weapon before fatally shooting a Black man at point-blank range during a traffic stop.
The Brooklyn Center Police Department released body-camera footage of Sunday’s encounter that ended in the death of Daunte Wright, 20, who was shot in the Minneapolis suburb, about 14 miles north of where George Floyd was killed last year.
Body-cam footage appeared to show Wright getting out of his car and then getting in, as officers attempted to apprehend him on an outstanding, undisclosed warrant, authorities said during a Monday press conference.
As Wright got back into his car, a female voice could be heard shouting “Taser!” before Wright was shot, video appeared to show.
That same female voice could be heard saying, “Holy s— I just shot him,” as the car pulled away, police said.
Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon said he believes it’s clear that the officer had meant to draw a Taser but instead grabbed her gun.
“During this encounter, however, the officer drew their handgun instead of their Taser,” the chief told reporters. “As I watched the video and listened to the officer’s commands, it is my belief the officer had the intention to deploy their Taser but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet.”
He added: “This appears to me form what I viewed and the officer’s reaction in distress immediately after that this was an accidental discharge that resulted in a tragic death of Mr. Wright.”
Mayor Mike Elliott said he wants the officer fired.
“We cannot afford to make mistakes that lead to the loss of life,” Elliott said. “I do fully support releasing the officer of her duties.”
She was put on administrative leave and Gannon stopped just short of agreeing with the mayor’s call to terminate the officer. But he strongly hinted that she won’t be back on the job.
“That officer is afforded due process just like anybody else does. She has the right to be heard, she has the right to give her statement. She has the right to tell what she felt, what she thought,” Gannon said.
“She will not be returning to duty until this investigation has runs its course. And for all intents and purposes, I think we can look at the video and ascertain whether she’ll be be returning.”
The officer-involved shooting will be handled by Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and Gannon said he believes the state investigators would have disagreed with his decision to release body-cam video on Monday.
“The releasing of video this early … is not something that they condone,” Gannon said. “I felt the community needed to know what happened. They needed to see it. I needed to be transparent and I wanted to be forthright.”
There was no immediate identification of the officer, though Gannon called her a “very senior” member of the department.
‘Initial details are troubling’
Wright called his mother, Katie Wright, asking for the car’s insurance information shortly after being pulled over, she told reporters on Sunday.
He had been pulled over by police for having an air freshener hanging from his rear-view mirror, which is illegal in Minnesota, according to Katie Wright.
“Initial details are troubling,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota said in a statement. “Wright’s mother told several news outlets that she was on the phone with her son when he was pulled over for having a dangling air freshener on his car rearview mirror. She said they asked him to get out of the car, but wouldn’t say why. Then she heard scuffling and gunshots.”
“The ACLU-MN has deep concerns that police here appear to have used dangling air fresheners as an excuse for making a pretextual stop, something police do all too often to target Black people,” the statement continued. “The warrant appears to be for a non-felony.”
The unrest in Brooklyn Center came at a particularly fraught time for Minnesotans, already on edge with the Chauvin trial drawing so much attention.
The National Guard was mobilized to control a rock-throwing crowd which gathered in front of the Brooklyn Center Police Department by nightfall. Officers fired rubber bullets and tear gas during the unrest.
Chauvin’s defense on Monday asked a judge to sequester jurors, fearing they could be influenced by the killing of another Black man by police.
The request was denied.
MSNBC legal analyst Paul Butler said Chauvin’s defense never had any real hope of having jurors sent to a hotel room for the trial’s duration — but instead made the application as a possible, post-conviction insurance policy.
Asking for “the jury be sequestered is really a way that the defense … can preserve this issue on appeal,” Butler said.