MINNEAPOLIS — Jurors in the manslaughter trial of former Minnesota police officer Kim Potter heard emotional testimony Wednesday from Daunte Wright’s mother, who said she spoke to her son moments before Potter shot him while yelling “Taser” in a Minneapolis suburb earlier this year.
Katie Bryant, 43, repeatedly broke down on the witness stand as she told jurors about her 20-year-oldson,describing him as a jokester and loving father. She recounted their final conversation and what she saw at the scene of the shooting.
“I was so confused, angry, scared,” she said as jurors listened intently. “It was the worst day of my life.”
The veteran Brooklyn Center officer is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter in Wright’s death during a traffic stop-turned-arrest in April. The incident happened just miles from the ongoing trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, later convicted of murdering George Floyd, and spurred multiple days of protests and looting in the area.
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Prosecutors sayPotter, 49, recklessly handled her firearm and caused Wright’s death by her “culpable negligence” – a conscious disregard of a substantial and unjustifiable risk, according to the complaint.
“This case is about the defendant, Kim Potter, betraying her oath, betraying her badge, and betraying her trust,” prosecutor Erin Eldridge said in her opening statement. “She had been trained year after year after year to prevent this kind of thing from happening, but she did it anyway.”
Defense attorneys say Potter intended to fire her Taser at Wright to prevent him from driving away and potentially injuring another officer in the process.
“She made a mistake. This was an accident. She’s a human being. And she had to do what she had to do to prevent a death of a fellow officer,” attorney Paul Engh said in his opening statement.
Engh said Wright should have surrendered to the warrant.He later added, “Over the course of 26 years, she never fired a gun. She never fired one shot. She never fired her Taser. She never had to.”
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Bryant, the first witness called by the state, said her son called her shortly after leaving her house to get gas and a car wash. She said Wright told her he was being pulled over and “sounded really nervous, scared” before she heard an officer tell him to step out of the car and the call ended.
Bryant said she panicked and called her son back several times on Facetime. Bryant said the woman in the passenger seat of the car answered the video call,told her Wright had been shot and turned the phone toward the driver’s seat.
“My son was laying there, he was unresponsive,” she said through tears. “He looked dead.”
After learning where the shooting took place, Bryant said she raced to the scene and ran under the yellow crime scene tape, where she saw her son’s body under a white sheet on the ground in front of his crashed car. Bryant said she wasn’t allowed to approach her son but identified him by his shoes and car.
“I wanted to go comfort my baby,” she said. “I wanted to protect him because that’s what mothers do.”
Under cross-examination, Bryant told a defense attorney that, before the shooting, she did not know her son used marijuana or had a warrant for his arrest.
Wright’s father, Arbuey Wright, two brothers and sister and were also present for testimony Wednesday. Potter’s husband, brother and sister-in-law sat in seats reserved for the defendant’s family.
Jurors also heard testimony and watched police body and dash camera video from the second witness for the prosecution, Brooklyn Center police officer in training Anthony Luckey, who attempted to arrest Wright before the shooting.Potter was his training officer that day.
Luckey, 31, appeared in court in full uniform. He told jurors he initiated the traffic stop after noticing the car Wright was driving had a right-turn signal on in the left laneand had expired tabs and an air freshener hanging from the review mirror.
Using an aerial photo of the intersection where the shooting took place, Luckey walked jurors through what happened during the stop. He said he smelled marijuana and observed marijuana leaves scattered around the car. Wright did not have a license or insurance, Luckey said.
‘Wrong gun’ or manslaughter? Former Minnesota officer Kim Potter goes on trial for Daunte Wright shooting
Luckey agreed with prosecutors that Wright was respectful and did not give him any reason to believe he was armed. He also agreed the woman in the car did not appear to be in distress.
Luckey said he, Potter and a third officer, a sergeant, attempted to arrest Wright after learning he had a warrant for failing to appear on agross misdemeanor weapons charge and a protection order that barred him from having contact with a woman.
Luckey saidWright initially got out of the car and placed his hands behind his back. Luckey said Wright pulled away as he attempted to handcuff him and got back into the driver’s seat of the car. Luckey said he and Potter attempted to pull Wright out of the car while the thirdofficer tried to restrain him from the passenger side.
On cross-examination, Luckey agreed with an attorney for the defense that, if Wright had been able to drive away, he and the other officer could have been injured or killed. Luckey also told the jury that he would’ve used a Taser if he could have.
Luckey said he heard Potter repeatedly inform Wright she would tase him, so he pulled back. Luckeysaid that’s when he saw a flash and heard the “bang” of a gunshot.
Luckey said he got hit in the face by a projectile and was temporarily unable to hear due to the gun going off at close range. Video from the scene shows Potter shouted several expletives and said she “grabbed the wrong” gun.
Luckey said Wright’s car drove forward, “airborned over the median,” and crashed into another vehicle and a fence.As video of the incident played, the loud subsequent bangs of the crash rang out in the courtroom, and Katie Bryant cried.
Luckey said Potter “became hysterical” after the shooting. His bodycam video shows her sobbing on the ground as officers try to comfort her. In the courtroom, Potter wiped away tears, and her attorney offered her a box of tissues.
“She said I’m going to prison,” Luckey recalled.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump and members of the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake Jr. – all Black people shot by police in high-profile incidents – gathered and prayed outside the Hennepin County Government Center on Wednesday in solidarity with Wright’s family.
George Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, told USA TODAY he was there to “stand in solidarity with them, the same they honored us and helped us.”
“We’re coming here to show love because everybody needs this,” he said.
After court ended for the day, a couple dozen people marched through the streets near the courthouse in freezing temperatures, chanting Wright’s naming.
“We want justice for Daunte Wright,” said Deborah Watts, the cousin of Emmett Till.
Some residents are watching the proceedings closely, said Marcia Howard, a high school teacher who has been occupying the area known as George Floyd Square nearly every day for the past 19 months. A poster bearing Wright’s image was placed beneath the sculpture of a raised fist in the middle of the intersection.
“Our eyes are on this trial,” Howard said Tuesday evening as she stoked a fire in the parking lot of a former Speedway, where the words “Justice for Daunte Wright!” were written on the sign of the old convenience store and gas station. Howard said a group of people that meets at the square each morning and evening have been discussing the trial.
About 10 miles away, in Brooklyn Center, an identical sculpture of a raised fist marks the site where Wright was shot. Candles encircle the sculpture, and photos, posters, flowers and Christmas lights hang from the fence lining the yard of a house. A sign with the words “Daunte Dr” hangs from a telephone pole covered in dozens of tree-shaped air fresheners.
“Even though Kim Potter is on trial, law enforcement is as well, and our judicial system is as well,” Howard said.
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The trial marks the second time in Minnesota state history that proceedings in a criminal trial are being livestreamed. The first time was earlier this year for the Chauvin trial.
Activists called for Potter to face murder charges after the shooting. The first-degree manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and/or a $30,000 fine. The second-degree charge has a maximum sentence of 10 years and/or a $20,000 fine.
Fourteen people – 12 jurors and two alternates – are hearing evidence in the case. The jury, which will remain anonymous until the conclusion of the trial, includes six men and six women whose ages range from 20s to 60s. Nine are white, two are Asian and one is Black, according to how the jurors self-identified to the court. The alternates are a white woman in her 70s and a white man in his 30s.
About 68% of Hennepin County residents are non-Hispanic white, nearly 14% are Black, 7.5% are Asian, and 7% are Hispanic or Latino, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The jury, with nine white panelists, is 75% white.
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