Minn. Attorney General Keith Ellison will lead prosecution against Brooklyn Center officer accused of killing Daunte Wright

Washington County Attorney Peter Orput returned the case to Hennepin County, which then asked Ellison to oversee

By: - May 21, 2021 12:33 pm

Attorney General Keith Ellison

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison will be leading the prosecution against former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter, who is accused of second-degree manslaughter in the April 11 shooting death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright. 

The decision to have Ellison’s office prosecute Potter is a victory for activists who had called for either Ellison or a special prosecutor to handle the case. 

To avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, the case was assigned to Washington County Attorney Peter Orput instead of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. Orput has faced mounting pressure from activists who have gathered at his Stillwater home to call for elevated charges. 

Orput recently returned the case to Freeman, who asked Ellison to take the lead. 

“I did not seek this prosecution and do not accept it lightly. I have had, and continue to have, confidence in how both County Attorney Orput and County Attorney Freeman have handled this case to date. I thank County Attorney Orput for the solid work he and his office have done, and I thank County Attorney Freeman once again for his confidence in my office. I appreciate their partnership as my office takes the lead on this case,” Ellison said in a statement.  

Civil rights attorney and activist Nekima Levy Armstrong praised the decision.

“The decision to place the Kim Potter case into the hands of the attorney general is one that is necessary and long overdue,” she said in an interview. “This would not have happened without people being willing able to show up in Stillwater outside of Washington County Attorney Pete Orput’s home.”

Levy Armstrong said that demonstrators protested at Orput’s home at least four times. She also said she hopes Ellison’s office will elevate the charge against Potter to murder.

Ellison’s office recently secured a conviction on three counts against ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the May 25, 2020 murder of George Floyd.

Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliot noted that successful conviction in a statement after the decision was announced.

“Ellison and his team successfully convicted Derek Chauvin to the fullest degree in the landmark George Floyd murder trial,” Elliot said. “I wanted to see this same level of prosecution in Daunte’s case. His family, friends and our community deserve it.”

The killing of Wright came just days before the Chauvin verdict, and spawned large protests at the Brooklyn Center Police Department, bringing national scrutiny to the suburban police department.

Former Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon released body-cam footage of the shooting within 24 hours of Wright’s death.

The video showed Wright briefly out of his car; police fail to get handcuffs on him, he gets back in his car before Potter can be heard yelling “Taser, taser, taser,” and then, “(Expletive), I just shot him.”

Gannon said he believed the shooting was accidental, but activists say that Potter, a veteran of the department and a training officer, should have known she was holding a gun and not a taser.

Potter’s trial date has been set for Dec. 6.

According to Ellison’s office, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank, who is the manager of the Criminal Division of the Attorney General’s Office and was a presenting attorney in the trial of Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd, will supervise the case.

The Hennepin County attorney’s office will also provide staff to Ellison’s prosecution team. Ellison’s office also said it is currently reviewing the evidence and charges laid against Potter, though it’s unclear if that will yield other charges or raise the current count of second-degree manslaughter.

Orput in a statement said “I believe that the review and the prosecution of this case and cases like it belongs with the Attorney General, and I call on the Legislature to provide all the funding necessary so that his office can do this work.”

Orput has previously defended his decision to charge Potter with second-degree manslaughter, saying the evidence did not substantiate a murder charge.

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez is the 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.

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