Lawyers lay out opposing views of police shooting that killed Daunte Wright

By: - December 8, 2021 3:11 pm

Katie Bryant testifies on Dec. 8, 2021, in the manslaughter trial of Kimberly Potter, the former Brooklyn Center police officer who shot and killed her 20-year-old son Daunte Wright on April 11, 2021.

Prosecutors said Kimberly Potter failed at her primary duty as a police officer, to protect the sanctity of life, and violated many years of training when she fatally shot 20-year-old Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center.

“We trust them not to use those weapons rashly or recklessly and we expect not to be shot dead on the street for no reason,” said Erin Eldridge, an assistant attorney general for Minnesota. “We trust them to know wrong from right, and left from right.”

Potter’s attorney said she fired her gun by mistake, thinking it was her Taser, as she was trying to prevent Wright from driving off and possibly injuring or killing her fellow officers who were restraining him.

Defense attorney Paul Engh said all Wright had to do was surrender, and Potter thought if Wright drove off, her sergeant — who was holding the gear shift — would have been dragged “dangling” from the car. 

“She can’t let him leave because he’s gonna kill her partner,” Engh said.

In opening statements in the trial of Potter on Wednesday, each side laid out their version of what led up to the fatal shooting on April 11. 

Potter is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter. Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines call for seven years for first-degree manslaughter and four years for second-degree manslaughter, but prosecutors have said they would seek a longer sentence. 

Wright was killed during the trial of former Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin, who became the first officer in Minnesota to be convicted of murder for an on-duty killing. 

Wright’s death reignited protests and riots over police brutality against Black people in the small suburban city north of Minneapolis and renewed calls for police reform at city hall and the state Capitol.  

The traffic stop

A still frame from the body camera footage of former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter which was shown to a jury in her manslaughter trial on Dec. 8, 2021.

The day he was killed, Wright was on his way to get a car wash with his girlfriend, Alayna Albrecht-Payton. 

Potter was with the new officer she was training, Anthony Luckey, when he noticed Wright’s blinker signaling a right turn even though he was in the left turning lane. He said he also noticed the air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror, which is technically against the law, and that the car’s registration tab had expired. 

Luckey, who grew up in adjacent Brooklyn Park, testified that “intuition” prompted him to call for backup right away, and he estimated about 40% of residents have guns in their cars.  

After he approached the vehicle, he noticed the odor of marijuana and saw marijuana residue in the car. He said Wright did not have a driver’s license or proof of car insurance. 

While Luckey went back to the squad car, Wright called his mother, Katie Bryant. 

Through tears, Bryant testified that her son told her he was pulled over for the air freshener and asked about insurance.

She told him to hand the phone to the cop so she could explain that they hadn’t added the car to her policy yet. 

“He just sounded really nervous, but I reassured him that it would be OK,” Bryant testified.

In the squad car, Potter and Luckey learned there was a warrant for Wright’s arrest for failing to appear on a gross misdemeanor weapons violation. So they and Sgt. Mike Johnson, who had arrived on scene, returned to the car to arrest Wright. 

Body and dash camera footage showed as Luckey was trying to handcuff Wright, he jerked away.

“Don’t do it bro,” Luckey warned Wright.

But Wright got away, jumped back in the car and tried to leave. From the passenger side, Johnson grabbed the gear shift to prevent Wright from driving off. 

As Luckey tried to wrest Wright away from the ignition and steering wheel, he heard Potter warn Wright that she would “tase” him and then yell “Taser! Taser!” before firing her gun.

“At this point he has to be stopped. He can’t just drive away,” said Engh, one of Potter’s attorneys. Potter saw Johnson on the other side of the car, Engh said, and thought, “if this guy drives away, he’s dead.” 

That’s when Potter shot Wright in the chest.

The aftermath

Brooklyn Center police officer Anthony Luckey’s body camera video shows him trying to comfort former officer Kimberly Potter after she shot and killed Daunte Wright during a traffic stop on April 11, 2021.

Prosecutors also played videos showing Potter after she realized she’d shot him with her weapon. 

“S***! I just shot him! I grabbed the wrong f****** gun. I shot him. Oh my God!” she said, collapsing onto the curb and saying “Oh my God” over and over. As the videos played in the courtroom, Potter wiped away tears, and rejected a box of tissues offered by her attorney.

“I’m going to go to prison,” she said at one point. “I killed a boy.” 

“No you’re not,” Luckey replied on the video. 

Johnson tells Potter in the video that Wright was trying to take off with him in the car. 

Wright’s car traveled about a block before crashing into an oncoming car. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Bryant connected with Wright’s passenger through Facetime, and, screaming, she panned the video to show Wright’s lifeless body. 

“He looked dead,” Bryant testified. 

She eventually found out where the incident happened, and went to the scene, where she was stopped by cops from getting close to a body that was lying in the street, covered with a sheet. 

She said she kept biting the inside of her cheeks, hoping to wake herself up from a nightmare. She said she still has scars inside her cheeks from it.

Brooklyn Center police officer Anthony Luckey testified in the trial of Kimberly Potter on Dec. 8, 2021.

“I knew, but I didn’t wanna know,” Bryant said, crying.

But she could see her son’s shoes.

“I didn’t wanna believe that was my son lying there on the ground but I could tell it was him because it was his tennis shoes,” Bryant said, breaking down. 

She stayed on the scene for hours, not wanting to leave until her son’s body was taken away. She was not allowed to approach him.

“I wanted to go comfort my baby,” she said, sobbing. “I wanted to hold him. I wanted to protect him because that’s what mothers do. You make sure that they’re safe.”

Eldridge said Potter “didn’t do anything to help” Wright after the shooting. The videos showed Wright distraught, on the ground.

“She intervened and she interfered,” Eldridge said. “It was her job to show Officer Luckey how it’s done. And what did she show him? She showed him how to kill someone.”

Almost 10 minutes later, a “small army” of officers — unaware of exactly what had happened — approached Wright’s crashed car with guns drawn and dragged Wright’s “dead body out of the car at gunpoint,” Eldridge said.

Luckey testified that both he and Johnson were in vulnerable positions — halfway in the car — and could have been hurt or killed if Wright took off. He said he would’ve used his Taser in that moment, too, if he could have, because Wright wasn’t in control of the vehicle.

Engh told jurors the case is not about an air freshener, but a bench warrant and a guy with a warrant for his arrest. 

Engh said Officer Colleen Fricke will testify that Potter’s “grief and regret was inconsolable” after the shooting, and video shows her  huddled in a corner at the Brooklyn Center police station.

“She realizes what has happened, much to her everlasting and unending regret,” he said. “She made a mistake. This was an accident. She’s a human being. But she had to do what you had to do to prevent a death to a fellow officer.”

The arguments 

Assistant Attorney General Erin Eldridge tells jurors in the manslaughter trial of Kimberly Potter that the former Brooklyn Center police officer failed to uphold the sanctity of life and violated years of training during opening statements on Dec. 8, 2021.

Eldridge said Potter went against training in multiple ways by firing at an unarmed driver, firing into a vehicle or even using a Taser on a fleeing suspect. 

And she pointed out that Potter had firearm and Taser training annually, including about a month before the incident. 

She said Potter carried her Glock on her right side, because she’s right-handed, and the Taser on her left.

Eldridge said nobody will contend Potter intended to shoot and kill Wright; she isn’t charged with intentional murder. She said it’s about the reckless handling of a firearm and disregard of known risks.

She said officers are trained not to use firearms during pursuits or Tasers to control a fleeing suspect and to aim Tasers away from the chest. She also highlighted the differences in color and weight of a gun and Taser and their holsters. Tasers have a display screen and flashlight that lights up and green lights that appear on the target.

Engh said former Brooklyn Center Police Chief Timothy Gannon will testify that it was consistent with Potter’s training for her to fire a Taser or gun at Wright to protect Johnson. And he said experts will testify about the use of Tasers and “action errors” during chaotic times.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.