Brooklyn Center police chief: Killing of Daunte Wright result of ‘accidental discharge’

Charging decision to be made by Washington County attorney

By: and - April 12, 2021 1:37 pm

Police in riot gear stand guard outside the Brooklyn Center police station shortly after body camera footage was released of the fatal police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Brooklyn Center officials including Police Chief Tim Gannon appeared at a mid-day news conference Monday, revealing the Sunday police killing of Daunte Wright was due to an “accidental discharge” of an officer’s service weapon. The officer thought she was using her Taser but used her firearm instead, striking and killing Wright with one shot, Gannon said.

In response to grieving demonstrators gathered at the Brooklyn Center Police Department in the suburb just north of Minneapolis, city leaders showed police body cam footage of the traffic stop. The video shows Wright briefly out of his car; police fail to get handcuffs on him, he gets back in his car before an unnamed female officer can be heard yelling “Taser, taser, taser,” and then, “Oh (expletive), I just shot him.”

Mike Elliott, the city’s mayor, said at the news conference, “Our hearts are aching right now. We are in pain right now.”

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who is the chief prosecutor of felonies in Brooklyn Center, released a statement saying any charging decision on the case would be made by the Washington County attorney. That’s in accordance with a 2020 decision by five urban county attorneys that they would refer police shootings to a different county attorney or the state attorney general to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest.

Demonstrators were met with force Sunday night when they marched on the police station, as Brooklyn Center police used tear gas and rubber bullets in a replay of the scene nearly a year ago after the police killing of George Floyd. Looting broke out in some places across the metro.

Civil rights attorney and activist Nekima Levy Armstrong called for the officer’s name to be released and for the officer to be fired immediately along with the police chief and the city manager.

“How is it that we’re in Brooklyn Center, supposedly one of the most progressive places in the country, and we feel like we’re in the midst of a war zone simply for standing up for human rights,” Levy Armstrong said.

Civil rights attorney and activist Nekima Levy Armstrong speaks at a news conference outside the Brooklyn Center police station on April 12, 2021 after the fatal police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man the day before. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said charges should be filed against the officer.

“The video evidence of what we saw right now is murder, and we are demanding immediate charges,” he said. “On Tuesday morning, they should be charging this officer with murder … It is not an accident, it is a murder of a young man.”

The killing of Wright comes at a tense time in Minnesota history, as the state wraps up its case against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the Floyd killing.

Chauvin’s lawyer moved to sequester the jury Monday but Judge Peter Cahill denied the motion.

Gov. Tim Walz ordered a curfew for Hennepin, Ramsey and Anoka counties, effective from 7 p.m. Monday to 6 a.m. Tuesday.

During a Monday afternoon news conference with other elected and law enforcement officials, Walz offered condolences to the Wright family; warned Minnesotans not to engage in violence or looting; and called on the Legislature to take up criminal justice reforms to prevent another police killing.

“We can either come together to fix this or we can suffer together as fools,” said Walz, the first term Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor. “In the midst of this trial that the world is watching, the situation repeated itself yesterday.”

President Joe Biden told reporters he has spoken to Walz.

Biden has yet to speak with Wright’s family. They remain in his prayers, he said.

“I think we got to wait and see what the investigation shows. The entire investigation,” Biden said. 

Biden said he watched the body camera footage.

“The question is whether it was an accident or intentional? That remains to be determined.”

Biden then stressed that there is “absolutely no justification for violence” in protest or otherwise. “Peaceful protest is understandable. And the fact is that we do know that the anger, pain and trauma that exists in Black community in that environment is real, serious, and consequential. But that does not justify violence,” he said. 

Biden added: “We should listen to Daunte’s mom who is calling for peace and calm.”

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez was a senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.

Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.