The Brooklyn Center police officer who shot and killed Daunte Wright during a traffic stop on Sunday faces a second-degree manslaughter charge, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
While the killing took place in Hennepin County, Washington County Attorney Pete Orput made the decision to charge 26-year veteran officer Kimberly Potter under an agreement among metro area county attorney’s offices to refer cases involving police officers to another county to avoid any conflict of interest.
Potter, 48, resigned from the department on Tuesday and was arrested Wednesday morning by Bureau of Criminal Affairs agents and booked into Hennepin County jail.
“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. “With that responsibility comes a great deal of discretion and accountability. We will vigorously prosecute this case and intend to prove that Officer Potter abrogated her responsibility to protect the public when she used her firearm rather than her Taser.”
Potter and a younger officer she was training stopped Wright for expired license plate tabs in the northern Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center on Sunday afternoon, according to the criminal complaint. Officers then tried to take him into custody under a warrant for his arrest for failing to make his first court appearance. He was facing charges of carrying a pistol without a permit and fleeing police.
Body camera footage released by the Brooklyn Center Police Department on Monday show an officer putting handcuffs on Wright as Potter approaches. Wright then appears to struggle with officers before sitting back into the driver’s seat. Potter shouted “Taser” three times before shooting Wright with her service weapon. Former Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon, who resigned on Tuesday, said Potter mistook her service weapon for her Taser.
Wright’s car then sped away and Potter is heard saying “Sh**, I just shot him.” Wright’s car traveled several blocks before crashing into another car.
Potter will be represented by attorney Earl Gray, according to the Star Tribune. He has represented a number of police officers charged in high-profile killings including Thomas Lane, who is one of the officers charged in the death of George Floyd, and Jeronimo Yanez, who shot and killed Philando Castile in the Twin Cities’ suburb of Falcon Heights during a traffic stop in 2016. Yanez was acquitted of second-degree manslaughter.
Wright’s family has not yet filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Brooklyn Center but is being represented by civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who won an unprecedented $27 million settlement from the city of Minneapolis for the death of Floyd last May.
During a news conference on Tuesday, Wright’s mother Katie spoke about how her son called her after being pulled over. She said she asked Daunte to give the phone over to the police officers so that she could give them the insurance information. Officers then asked Wright to step out of the car. Katie Wright said she heard a commotion before the call ended. Then the woman who was riding with Daunte called Katie and said he had been shot.
“She pointed the phone toward the driver’s seat and my son was laying there, responsive. That was the last time I seen my son. That’s the last time I heard from my son, and I have had no explanation,” Katie Wright said.
The explanation that Potter accidentally shot Wright did not satisfy family members and activists, who questioned how a 26-year-veteran could mistake a gun for a Taser.
Instances of officers mistaking a gun for a Taser are rare, but not unheard of, according to a Tuesday report in the New York Times.
“My brother lost his life because they were trigger happy,” Wright’s older brother Dallas Bryant said during a vigil on Monday evening. “I could tell my brother was scared. I could hear it in his voice. And for them to call it an accident or a mistake? To be honest, it’s just straight bulls***.”
The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating the shooting.
According to the Washington County Attorney’s office, “a Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigator examined Potter’s duty belt and saw that the handgun is holstered on the right side of the belt and her Taser is on the left side. The grips or handles of both the gun and Taser face Potter’s rear. The Taser is yellow with a black grip. Also, the Taser is set in a straight-draw position, meaning Potter would have to use her left hand to pull the Taser out of its holster.”
Wright’s killing has been followed by three nights of protests outside the Brooklyn Center police station. Some protesters lobbed water bottles and bricks at police and shot fireworks. Police returned fire with tear gas, rubber bullets and other crowd control weapons. Dozens of protesters were arrested on Monday and Tuesday nights on charges ranging from unlawful assembly to rioting.