Ex-Police Officer Who Fatally Shot Daunte Wright Will Be Charged with Manslaughter
The officer, Kim Potter, a 26-year veteran, resigned her position Tuesday amid continuing protests over Daunte Wright's fatal shooting at a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minn.
A criminal charge announced Wednesday alleges that a veteran police officer committed manslaughter when she fatally shot Daunte Wright, an unarmed Black 20-year-old man, amidst a traffic stop in a suburb of Minneapolis on Sunday.
The charge, made public by Washington County Attorney Pete Orput, followed a third night of street protests in the case that has fueled outrage amid a parallel trial unfolding in Minneapolis, where former police officer Derek Chauvin is facing murder charges in the death of another Black man, George Floyd.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension confirmed Potter's arrest Wednesday on a charge of second-degree manslaughter.
Potter, 48, a white 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center police force, and Chief Tim Gannon both resigned from their positions Tuesday, one day after Gannon said it appeared to him that Wright's shooting was "accidental," based on officer-worn body camera footage of the incident. Gannon suggested that Potter believed she was reaching for her Taser when she grabbed her gun as it looked like Wright was attempting to flee.
Gannon did not defend Potter's action. But in releasing the footage at a news conference Monday, he said it appeared that Potter "had the intention to deploy her Taser" when she instead fired a single bullet from her handgun after Wright, 20, shook free during an attempt to handcuff him at a traffic stop and then tried to drive away.
Potter "abrogated her responsibility to protect the public when she used her firearm rather than her Taser," Imran Ali, assistant criminal division chief in the Washington County Attorney's Office, said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE. "Her action caused the unlawful killing of Mr. Wright and she must be held accountable."
According to the criminal complaint, Potter's Glock 9mm handgun was holstered on the right side of her duty belt, with the Taser on the left side, with the handles of both facing Potter's rear. The Taser is distinguishable by its yellow color with a black grip, and set in a "straight-draw position," meaning Potter would have to use her left hand to pull it from its holster. But she shot Wright with her right hand, the complaint states.
An attorney for the Wright family, Ben Crump, said in a statement responding to the charge: "While we appreciate that the district attorney is pursuing justice for Daunte, no conviction can give the Wright family their loved one back. This was no accident. This was an intentional, deliberate, and unlawful use of force. Driving while Black continues to result in a death sentence. A 26-year veteran of the force knows the difference between a taser and a firearm."
An attorney for Potter, Earl Gray, could not immediately be reached. Gray is also representing Thomas Lane, one of three officers along with Chauvin who is charged in connection with Floyd's death, reports KARE. Lane has pleaded not guilty and is due to be tried later this summer.
In announcing Potter's resignation on Tuesday, Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott, who had called a day earlier for Potter to be fired, said: "She felt that was the right thing for the community, and I couldn't agree more. We did not ask her to resign. That was a decision she made."
Elliott had wanted the Minnesota Attorney General's Office, which is leading the prosecution of Floyd's murder, to handle the Wright case. But Mike Freeman, the attorney for Hennepin County — which includes Brooklyn Center — steered it to Washington County under a policy adopted last year to avoid any appearance of conflict or mishandling of local cases that involve alleged misuse of police force, he said in a statement.
In the Floyd case, former Minneapolis officer Chauvin, 44, has pleaded not guilty to multiple charges in the death of Floyd, 44, after the white officer held Floyd to the ground for nearly nine minutes May 25 with a knee pinned to Floyd's neck. Chauvin was fired in the aftermath.
Floyd's death, caught on bystander video that went viral, sparked a summer of social justice protests that continue to reverberate. Congress is considering reform legislation titled the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which already has passed the House, and both President Biden and former President Obama have spoken on what Biden called out as racial justice and inequity.
In a statement Tuesday, Obama said, "Our hearts are heavy over yet another shooting of a Black man, Daunte Wright, at the hands of police." He wrote on Twitter that he believes it is "important to conduct a full and transparent investigation," but that Wright's death "is also a reminder of just how badly we need to reimagine policing and public safety in this country."
"We empathize with the pain that Black mothers, fathers, and children are feeling after yet another senseless tragedy," he said. He added that he and his family "will continue to work with all fair-minded Americans to confront historical inequities and bring about nationwide changes that are so long overdue."
Wright had been pulled over shortly before 2 p.m. Sunday and was approached by Potter and another officer for what Gannon said were expired car tags. Wright then handed his ID to an officer who ran a check on it and discovered an outstanding misdemeanor warrant for Wright, prompting Wright's attempted arrest, Gannon said.
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According to the body-cam footage, Wright, who was by then standing by the open driver's side door, wrestled free of handcuffs as they were being applied behind his back. Wright then jumped back into his car and appeared to try to drive away.
"I know my son was scared," Wright's mother, Katie Wright, who was on the phone with her son after he was stopped and heard the scuffle, told Good Morning America. "He's afraid of the police, and I just seen and heard the fear in his voice."
As Wright struggled and tried to get back into his vehicle, the video footage shows Potter threatening to use her Taser, then shouting "Taser" several times before discharging her gun.
After she did so, Potter said, "Sh--, I just shot him!," as Wright's vehicle sped away for a short distance before striking another car, according to the criminal complaint. He was declared dead at the scene.
"The officer had the intention to deploy their Taser but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet," Gannon said Monday, adding that Wright did not have a gun.
He explained that officers are trained to holster their firearm on their dominant side, with the Taser on the other side, and that it appeared Potter had grabbed the wrong weapon.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Crump called the shooting "unacceptable."
"It was intentional they stopped him, it was intentional they used the most force. They could have given him a ticket," he said.
Another attorney for the Wright family, Jeff Storms, said: "Don't tell us it's an accident, because it undermines the tragic loss of life that this family has experienced."