BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. – The former Minnesota police officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop will be charged with second-degree manslaughter, a prosecutor said Wednesday.
Washington County Attorney Pete Orput confirmed in an email to USA TODAY that Kim Potter, a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center Police Department, would be charged, though the criminal complaint was still being processed Wednesday.
Potter resigned Tuesday as calls for justice for Wright echoed throughout Minnesota. The city’s former police chief, who also resigned Tuesday, said Potter accidentally grabbed her firearm when she thought she was tasing Wright during the traffic stop Sunday. Wright’s family has rejected police’s characterization of their son’s death as an “accident” and called for Potter to be held accountable.
If found guilty, Potter faces up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, according to Minnesota law.
The Hennepin County medical examiner said Wright died of a gunshot wound to the chest and ruled his death a homicide.
The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office handed any charging decision over to Orput earlier this week as the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigates the case.
Local prosecutors in the Minneapolis area agreed last year to refer cases involving police use of deadly force to prosecutors in other jurisdictions.
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Potter is being represented by Earl Gray, an attorney who also represents Thomas Lane. Lane is a former Minneapolis police officer charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd.
Wright’s death Sunday sparked protests around Minneapolis, an area already on edge as the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin in the killing of Floyd was in its third week of testimony. Brooklyn Center is about 10 miles north of Minneapolis.
Floyd’s family joined Wright’s family at a news conference Tuesday, organized by civil rights attorney Ben Crump, where both families called for more accountability for police officers.
“I never imagined this was what was going to happen,” Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, said Tuesday as she recounted the final moments of her son’s life during a traffic stop.
Katie Wright said her son called her after he was pulled over. Wright told his mother police said he had air fresheners in his rearview mirror. Police later said they pulled Wright over for an expired registration.
Wright had an outstanding warrant, prompting officers to ask him to get out of his vehicle, police said. Katie Wright said she heard the encounter unfold over the phone before it hung up. When she called back, the woman in the car with Wright answered with a video call and showed Wright sitting in the driver seat lifeless.
Potter’s body-worn camera footage, released Monday, showed Potter approach Wright as another officer had started arresting him. Wright appeared to reenter the driver seat in a scuffle, and Potter drew her firearm. Potter is heard shouting “Taser” before firing.
Wright’s family and many in the Brooklyn Center community have called into question how Potter could not have realized she was holding her firearm. Former Police Chief Tim Gannon said Monday officers are trained to keep their firearm on their dominant side and their Taser on the other.
“After 26 years, you would think you would know what side your gun is on and what side your Taser is on. You know the weight of your gun and the weight of your Taser,” Crump said Tuesday.
There have been at least 15 other cases of “weapons confusion” in the United States since 2001, and Wright is the fourth person to have died in such incidents, according to data compiled by the website FatalEncounters.org and University of Colorado professor Paul Taylor, who tracks such cases.
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In an interview Wednesday with WCCO-AM, Brian Peters, head of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, blamed Wright for his own death.
“This is going to be an unpopular statement … Daunte Wright, if he would have just complied, he was told was under arrest, they were arresting him on a warrant for weapons, he set off a chain of events that unfortunately led to his death,” Peters said. “I’m not excusing it, but what we’re seeing in policing these days is that non-compliance by the public.”
St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Peters’ organization would fund Potter’s defense. The group is also paying for Chauvin’s defense.
The area was under curfew for another night Tuesday, yet protesters and police clashed outside Brooklyn Center police headquarters.
Hundreds gathered around the building now ringed by concrete barriers and a tall metal fence. Police in riot gear and National Guard soldiers stood watch. “Murderapolis” was scrawled with black spray paint on a concrete barrier.
About 90 minutes before the curfew deadline, state police announced over a loudspeaker the gathering had been declared unlawful and ordered the crowds to disperse. That quickly set off confrontations as protesters launched fireworks toward the station and threw objects at police, who launched flash-bangs and gas grenades, and then marched in a line to force back the crowd.
In a news conference early Wednesday, Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matt Langer said about 60 people were arrested in connection to the Brooklyn Center protests ranging from “riot and criminal behaviors” and urged the public for help.
Marches drew crowds elsewhere, including Chicago, Dallas, Seattle, Sacramento, California and Columbus, Ohio.
Contributing: Elinor Aspergen and Dennis Wagner