MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter has been charged with second-degree manslaughter in the death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright.
Washington County Attorney Pete Orput announced the charges Wednesday, saying Potter, 48, was taken into custody by Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents and booked into Hennepin County Jail. She was released just a few hours later after posting a $100,000 bond.
“Certain occupations carry an immense responsibility and none more so than a sworn police officer,” said Imran Ali, Washington County assistant criminal division chief and director of the Major Crime Unit. “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. Her action caused the unlawful killing of Mr. Wright and she must be held accountable.”
Ali says he, along with Orput, met with the family and expressed their deepest sympathies and assured them they “would spare no resources in seeking justice for Mr. Wright.”
Second-degree manslaughter is defined by Minnesota law as “when someone acts with negligence, creating an unreasonable risk that causes death or great bodily harm.” Rachel Moran, a law associate professor at the University of St. Thomas, explains it further.
“It really means more than an accident any average person would have,” Moran said.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Wright’s family, issued a statement following the decision to charge Potter.
“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,” Crump said. “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. Kim Potter executed Daunte for what amounts to no more than a minor traffic infraction and a misdemeanor warrant. Daunte’s life, like George Floyd’s life, like Eric Garner’s, like Breonna Taylor’s, like David Smith’s meant something. But Kim Potter saw him as expendable. It’s past time for meaningful change in our country. We will keep fighting for justice for Daunte, for his family, and for all marginalized people of color. And we will not stop until there is meaningful policing and justice reform and until we reach our goal of true equality.”
Officer Kim Potter will be charged with 2nd degree manslaughter (the same charge Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of in the shooting of Philando Castile). Minnesota law defines manslaughter as a death due to "culpable negligence" causing "unreasonable risk." pic.twitter.com/KVnhBfjq0c
— Jason DeRusha (@DeRushaJ) April 14, 2021
Potter is the white former officer who shot and killed Wright, a Black man, during a traffic stop Sunday. She’s a 26-year veteran with the Brooklyn Center Police Department. Potter and the police chief Tim Gannon have since resigned from their positions.
Police released body camera footage of the incident Monday. Gannon, who was still the police chief at the time, said he believes Potter meant to deploy her Taser during the fatal incident.
“As I watched the video and listen to the officer’s commands, it is my belief that the officer had the intention to deploy their Taser but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet,” Gannon said. “This appears to me from what I viewed and the officer’s reaction in distress immediately after that this was an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr. Wright.”
This charge brings up a lot of comparison to previous cases involving fatal police shootings in Minnesota. And with those comparisons, many community activists are saying Potter’s charge is not enough. Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, compares it to the 2017 case involving ex-Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor in the shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.
“This officer, who clearly pulled a gun, and even a Taser, killed this young man Daunte Wright. It’s clearly murder,” Hussein said.
Noor was convicted of third-degree murder in addition to second-degree manslaughter.
“That’s another distinction with Officer Noor. A Black police officer accused of killing a white woman, and he’s convicted,” Moran said.
But in 2017, ex-St. Anthony officer Jeromino Yanez was acquitted on a second-degree manslaughter charge for killing Philando Castile, also during a traffic stop.
“Minnesota has a history of acquitting police officers who have killed People of Color. There’s no denying that, and we need to talk about that,” Hussein said.
Charges could still be upgraded.
“I think a third-degree murder charge could be something that could be appropriate here, and that many people would have expected,” Moran said.
CRIMINAL COMPLAINT DETAILS
Potter was charged in Hennepin County on Wednesday afternoon.
According to the complaint, the incident began at 1:53 p.m. Sunday when Brooklyn Center Police Officer Anthony Luckey and his field training officer, Potter, pulled over a white Buick at 63rd Avenue North and Orchard Avenue North.
Officer Luckey checked the identification of the driver, later publicly identified as Daunte Wright, and determined that he had a warrant for a gross misdemeanor weapons charge.
Luckey and Potter then asked Wright to get out of the vehicle and place his hands behind his back, which Wright did. Luckey then told Wright he was being arrested for the outstanding warrant. At that time, Luckey and Wright stood just outside the open driver’s side door, and Potter was standing behind and to the right of Luckey.
Wright then pulled away from the officers and got back into the driver’s seat of the car, with Luckey continuing to maintain physical control of Wright. Potter then said she would Taser Wright, the complaint said, and then pulled her Glock 9mm handgun with her right hand. While pointing it at Wright, she repeated that she would use the Taser on Wright and then yelled “Taser, Taser, Taser” before pulling the trigger of her handgun. One round entered the left side of Wright.
Wright said “ah, he shot me” and the vehicle then sped away for a short distance before crashing into another vehicle and stopping, the complaint said. After she discharged her gun, Potter said “S–t, I just shot him!” Wright was pronounced dead at the scene.
According to the timeline of events given in the complaint, six seconds passed between Potter saying she’d Taser Wright to when she fired the single round from her handgun.
A Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigator collected and reviewed Potter’s duty belt, and saw that her handgun is holstered on the right side of the belt and her Taser is on the left side. The grips, or handles of the Taser and handgun face Potter’s rear, and the Taser is yellow with a black grip. The investigator noted that the Taser is in a straight-draw position, meaning she would have had to use her left hand to draw the Taser out of the holster.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner has since determined Wright died of a gunshot wound and that his death was a homicide.
Earl Gray, Potter’s defense attorney, said he had no comment when reached by phone Wednesday. Gray also represented Yanez in his trial for the death of Castile, and he will represent ex-Minneapolis police officer Thomas Lane in his trial this summer for the death of George Floyd.
If Potter is found guilty of the second-degree manslaughter charge, she could face up to 10 years in prison. She is due to make her first court appearance at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday.
More than 60 people were arrested following a third night of protesters clashing with police in Brooklyn Center over the fatal police shooting of Wright.