Potter testifies: ‘Things just went chaotic’

By: - December 17, 2021 4:04 pm

Former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter testifies in her manslaughter trial on Dec. 17, 2021, for killing 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic traffic stop.

Kimberly Potter took the stand in her own manslaughter trial Friday and explained how, after 26 years as a Brooklyn Center police officer, she had never used her Taser or gun before the day last April when she accidentally shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright.

Potter, who said she never had a misconduct complaint in her career,  said “things just went chaotic” when her trainee officer tried to handcuff Wright and he got away and back into his car.

Potter’s hours-long and at times tearful testimony will likely play a critical role in the jury’s deliberations over the first- and second-degree manslaughter charges brought against her by the state’s attorney general. 

Potter was the last witness to be called, with the prosecution and her defense lawyer scheduled to present their closing arguments to the jury on Monday. 

Before the shooting, Potter said her sergeant looked afraid as he tried to keep Wright from driving off by reaching into the passenger side of the car and holding the gear shift.

“He had a look of fear on his face,” Potter testified. “It’s nothing I’ve seen before.”

The officer she was training, Anthony Luckey, who is Black, was driving that Sunday afternoon as they went over the department’s pursuit policy. Luckey saw a white Buick in front of them in the left turning lane with its right turning signal on. Then he noticed an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror — which is technically illegal — and they noticed the registration tab had expired.

Potter said she likely would not have made the traffic stop were she not training Luckey because having an air freshener is “an equipment violation” and during the pandemic, officers were advised not to enforce expired registration due to slower-than-usual state bureaucracy.

“Officer Luckey wanted to stop the vehicle,” she testified.

Potter said traffic stops can be dangerous, because sometimes people have guns or are uncooperative. And after they learned there was a warrant for Wright’s arrest on a gun violation and a temporary protection order against him, she said it was “concerning.”

Luckey called for backup and her sergeant at the time, Mychal Johnson, joined them as they went back to the car to arrest Wright and make sure his female passenger wasn’t the subject of the protection order.

“It’s my duty to make sure she’s not in harm’s way,” said Potter, who worked on a domestic abuse response team for about a dozen years. She said there have been cases where officers didn’t check, and people ended up getting killed.

She said she remembered a “struggle” as Wright and Johnson wrangled over the gear shift and they tried to keep Wright from driving away.

“I… remember yelling Taser, Taser, Taser! and nothing happened and then (Wright) told me I shot him,” Potter said, breaking down crying.

She said she remembered “they got an ambulance” — although she wasn’t sure why — and doesn’t remember much after that, until her husband arrived at the police station where she was taken.

The next thing she remembers is being in an office on the floor. Her friend and colleague, Officer Colleen Fricke, testified Friday that after she escorted Potter to the police station, she saw Potter curled up and crying on the floor.

Potter resigned two days after killing Wright, and was arrested the following day. 

Asked by her attorney, Earl Gray, if she quit her job, Potter said, “I did,” and broke down crying. She said she quit because “There was so much bad stuff happening” she didn’t want anything bad to happen to her coworkers or her city.

She has since sold her home and moved out of state and is in therapy.

Much of the cross-examination by Assistant Attorney General Erin Eldridge focused on Potter’s training on use of force, Tasers and drawing weapons. Potter was trained annually on Tasers beginning in 2002.

As the prosecution played a video of the officers trying to arrest Wright, frame by frame, with Eldridge freezing frames to ask Potter about each step, Potter began crying, saying she didn’t remember everything and “It appears that way” or “That’s what the video shows.”

On cross examination, Eldridge said Potter told a Florida psychologist, Laurence Miller, that she didn’t know why she decided to use her gun and “I don’t have an answer, my brain said ‘Grab the Taser.’ ”

Miller testified earlier Friday that police officers — like surgeons and pilots — can make fatal errors in the heat of the moment due to “slip and capture” or “action errors.”

He likened it to writing the wrong year on a check early in the new year, slamming on the brakes when a car cuts you off, or typing in an old password. Potter said she didn’t recall what she told Miller.

Eldridge also pressed Potter on her immediate reaction to shooting Wright, noting that she said she was going to go to prison. 

“You didn’t behave like someone who had just saved Sgt. Johnson’s life, did you?” she asked.

“I was very distraught,” Potter replied. “I had just shot somebody. I’ve never done that.”

“Well, you never asked Sgt. Johnson if he was OK, right?” Eldridge said.

“I don’t remember the conversations,” Potter replied.

“You didn’t check in on him at all, right?” Eldridge asked.

“I don’t know,” Potter said.

“Well, you saw the video when Sgt. Johnson fed you the line ‘That guy was trying to take off with me’ you didn’t bite, right? You didn’t respond to that at all. Did you?”

“I was crying,” Potter said. “I was in shock.”

Eldridge then pressed Potter on why she didn’t help Wright, ask about him and his passenger’s welfare or communicate to dispatch what happened.

In the bodycam videos, distraught and crying, Potter at one point said, “I’m going to go to prison,” and asked Johnson to “call Chuck,” a reference to Chuck Valleau, her union representative. Potter is former president of the Brooklyn Center police union.

“You didn’t do any of those things on April 11, did you? You stopped doing your job completely,” Eldridge said.

“No,” Potter said, crying.

“You didn’t run down the street and try to save Daunte’s life, did you?” Eldridge said. “You were focused on what you had done because you had just killed somebody.”

“I’m sorry it happened,” Potter said, sobbing. “I’m so sorry.”

 

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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. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.

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