BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. – The former Minnesota police officer who fatally shot and killed Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old black man while in a traffic obstruction, was charged Wednesday with second degree manslaughter, a prosecutor said.
Washington District attorney Pete Orput accused Kim Potter, a 26-year-old Brooklyn Center Police Department veteran, in the Sunday shootings that caused racist tensions in this city, just a few miles from where George Floyd was located died in a police arrest last May.
“Certain professions carry immense responsibilities and nothing more than a sworn policeman,” said Imran Ali, deputy chief of crime in Washington County, in a statement. “We … want to prove that Officer Potter removed her public safety responsibility when she used her firearm in place of her taser. Your act caused the unlawful killing of Mr. Wright and she must be held accountable.” ‘
Agents of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension arrested Potter Wednesday morning, Jill Oliveira, a spokeswoman for the office, said in a statement. Potter, 48, was taken into custody at the criminal prosecution office in St. Paul before noon, Oliveira said. Online records for Hennepin County Jail showed she was being held without bail.
Potter resigned Tuesday as the demand for justice for Wright echoed across Minnesota.
Tim Gannon, the city’s former police chief who also resigned Tuesday, said Potter accidentally packed her firearm when she believed she was using her taser on Wright during Sunday’s traffic obstruction. Wright’s family have refused to allow the police to characterize their son’s death as an “accident” and have demanded that Potter be held accountable.
If found guilty, Potter faces up to 10 years in prison and a $ 20,000 fine under Minnesota law.
“While we appreciate the district attorney seeking justice for Daunte, no conviction of the Wright family can return loved ones,” said Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney who represents Wright’s family, in a statement with Jeff Storms and Antonio Romanucci.
“This was no accident. This was a deliberate, deliberate and unlawful use of force,” the statement said.
More: How a Taser can be mistaken for a weapon.
The Hennepin County coroner said Wright died of a gunshot wound to the chest and called his death a murder.
“A badge should never be a shield of accountability,” said NAACP President Derrick Johnson. “Daunte Wright was brutally killed by a police officer and justice must prevail.”
Hennepin County Public Prosecutor’s Office handed Orput an indictment decision earlier this week when the State Prosecution Bureau is investigating the case. Local prosecutors in the Minneapolis area agreed last year to refer cases of police using lethal force to prosecutors in other jurisdictions.
Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott said Tuesday the case should be handled by Attorney General Keith Ellison “to ensure transparency and continue to build trust in our community.”
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Potter is represented by Earl Gray, an attorney who also represents Thomas Lane, a former Minneapolis police officer charged with aiding and abetting second degree murder in Floyd’s death.
Wright’s death sparked protests in Minneapolis, an area that was already on the sidelines when the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin for Floyd’s murder was third week of witnesses. The Brooklyn Center is about 10 miles north of Minneapolis.
Floyd’s family joined Wright’s family at a press conference organized by Crump on Tuesday, at which both families called for greater accountability to police officers.
“I never thought this would happen,” Wright’s mother Katie Wright said Tuesday as she recounted the final moments of her son’s life during a traffic obstruction.
Katie Wright said her son called her after he was run over and told her that police said he had air fresheners in his rearview mirror. Police later said they stopped Wright over an expired registration.
Wright had a pending arrest warrant requesting officers to ask him to get out of his vehicle, police said. Katie Wright said she heard the encounter on the phone before they were separated. When she called back, the woman in the car answered Wright with a video call showing Wright sitting lifeless in the driver’s seat.
Potter’s body camera footage, released Monday, showed Potter approaching Wright after another officer began arresting him. Wright pulled back and got back in the car in a fight and Potter drew her gun. You can hear Potter screaming, “I’ll grope you! I’ll grope you! Taser! Taser! Taser!” before firing, then she expressed surprise that she had shot him.
Wright’s family and many members of the Brooklyn Center community have questioned that Potter could not have realized she was holding her gun. Speaking at a press conference Monday, Gannon said the officers were trained to keep their gun on the dominant side and their taser on the other.
“After 26 years, you’d think you would know which side your gun is on and which side your taser is on,” Crump said Tuesday. “You know the weight of your gun and the weight of your taser.”
There have been at least 15 other “gun confusion” incidents in the United States since 2001, and Wright is the fourth person to be killed in such incidents. This is based on data compiled by the website FatalEncounters.org and the University of Colorado Professor Paul Taylor, who is tracking such cases.
Protest Updates:60 people arrested in connection with demonstrations at Brooklyn Center; Protesters demand justice across the country
In an interview with WCCO-AM on Wednesday, Brian Peters, director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, blamed Wright for his own death.
“This will be an unpopular statement … Daunte Wright, if he had only followed it, he was told that he had been arrested, that they had arrested him on a weapons arrest warrant, that he sparked a series of events which unfortunately would have led to his death, “said Peters. “I don’t apologize, but what we see in police work these days is public non-compliance.”
The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that Peters’ organization would fund Potter’s defense. The group also pays for Chauvin’s defense.
The area was under curfew for another night on Tuesday, but protesters and police officers clashed outside the Brooklyn Center Police Headquarters.
Hundreds gathered around the building, which was now surrounded by concrete barriers and a tall metal fence. Police in riot gear and soldiers from the National Guard stood guard. “Murderapolis” was scribbled on a concrete barrier with black spray paint.
About 90 minutes before the curfew ended, state police announced over the loudspeaker that the gathering had been declared illegal and ordered the crowd to disperse. This quickly sparked confrontations as protesters fired fireworks at the station and threw objects at the police, who set off lightning strikes and gas grenades, and then marched in a line to push the crowd back.
In a press conference early Wednesday, Minnesota State Patrol Lt. Col. Matt Langer said about 60 people were arrested in connection with the protests for “riot and criminal conduct” and called on the public to provide assistance.
Marches drew other crowds including Chicago, Dallas, Seattle, Sacramento, California, and Columbus, Ohio.
Contributors: Elinor Aspergen and Dennis Wagner