BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. – The police officer who fatally shot a 20-year-old Black man during a traffic stop may have intended to fire a Taser, the city’s police chief said Monday.
The department released dramatic body-cam footage of the incident, which has rocked the Minneapolis suburb just miles from where George Floyd was killed during a police arrest last May.
Daunte Wright was shot once and died after the traffic stop on Sunday, Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon said. Body-camera footage released during a new conference shows two other officers approaching Wright’s car and the officer who fired the shot standing behind them.
As the officer on the driver side of the vehicle begins to handcuff Wright, a struggle ensues and Wright appears to reenter the driver side of the car. The third officer, who had approached Wright, is heard shouting “Taser” before she shoots Wright and the car drives away.
“It is my belief that the officer had the intention to deploy their taser but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet,” Gannon told reporters during the news conference.
During the news conference, anger broke out inside and outside of the police department headquarters among community members watching from the lobby.
“This is murder. This is white supremacy. Who’s going to stand up for our ancestors who built this land but are still kept down?” said Jonathan Mason, a community activist.
In a statement, NAACP National President Derrick Johnson said Wright “should be alive today.”
“Whether it be carelessness and negligence, or a blatant modern-day lynching, the result is the same. Another Black man has died at the hands of police,” Johnson said.
Wright’s death comes as Minneapolis, 10 miles south, was on edge in the middle of the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, who faces murder charges in the death of Floyd.
Police responded to protests Sunday with riot gear as demonstrators gathered in Brooklyn Center, mourning Wright’s death. Video posted to Twitter showed police firing gas and a chemical agent at protesters who gathered at the police department Sunday night.
“This is the wrong time for another Black man to get killed by the police,” said Dez Odoms, 30, whose apartment is near the police station. Odoms said tear gas was fired at his apartment as he watched the protests unfold. “It’s sad. This city’s crazy, man.”
Police chief says initial stop was for expired registration
Gannon said officers made the initial stop around 2 p.m. because the car had an expired registration. When officers went back to their vehicle and looked up Wright’s information, they saw an outstanding warrant, which prompted the arrest, Gannon said.
The brief body-camera video shows one officer on the driver side and one officer on the passenger side of Wright’s car, and it is from the perspective of the third officer standing behind the vehicle. Shortly after approaching the vehicle, Wright gets out of the car, and the officer on the driver side begins to handcuff him.
However, the officer pulls the handcuffs away, and the third officer approaches and grabs Wright’s arm.
Wright then appears to begin to reenter the driver seat as the officer pulls out her firearm. She is heard saying “Taser” at least three times. After firing a shot, the car drives away and the officer says, “Oh (expletive), I just shot him.”
Gannon said officers are trained to carry their firearms on the dominant side of their body and their Taser on the other side. He said knowing that and seeing the video led him to believe, “this was an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr. Wright.”
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating the incident. In a statement to USA TODAY earlier Monday, Jill Oliveira, a public information officer for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said the BCA was “in the very early stages of its investigation.”
Gannon said releasing the body-cam footage was his decision. “I felt the community needed to know what happened, they needed to see it. I needed to be transparent.”
The officer was placed on administration leave, and Gannon said it was too soon to say whether she would face charges.
Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott said he believed the officer should be fired.
“We cannot afford to make mistakes that lead to the loss of life of other people in our profession,” Elliott said.
‘Heartbreaking and unfathomable;’ Wright’s mother says she spoke on phone with her son
Elliott called Wright’s death “heartbreaking and unfathomable.”
“Let me be clear: We will get to the bottom of this. We will do all that is within our power to make sure that justice is done for Daunte Wright,” he said
Wright’s death “couldn’t happen at a worse time,” Elliott added, noting Chauvin’s nearby trial. “We are collectively devastated and we have been for over a year now over the killing of George Floyd.”
Daunte’s mother, Katie Wright, told reporters her son was driving a vehicle the family had given him weeks ago and called her as he was being pulled over with his girlfriend in the car, the New York Times reported.
“He called me at about 1:40, said he was getting pulled over by the police,” she said in a Facebook Live video. “He said they pulled him over because he had air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror.”
Gannon said that officer noted after pulling over Wright for the expired registration that he also had the air fresheners on his rearview mirror.
After he was shot, Wright drove several more blocks before hitting another vehicle, police said. No one in the other vehicle was harmed, police said
As she spoke with her son during the traffic stop, Katie Wright said she told him to give the phone to officers so she could tell them insurance information, the New York Times reported.
“Then I heard the police officer come to the window and say, ‘Put the phone down and get out of the car,’” she said, according to the Times.
Wright told the Star-Tribune that she heard a scuffle during the call and someone say, “Daunte, don’t run.” The call ended and when she called back, Wright’s girlfriend told his mother that he had been shot, the Star-Tribune reported.
Aubrey Wright told the Washington Post that his son was driving to get a car wash when he was shot.
Wright said he was at the grocery store when his wife called him to tell him that their son had been shot. He told the Post he arrived at the scene within 10 minutes and saw his son’s 2011 Buick LaCrosse partially destroyed and his body on the ground with a sheet over it.
“I know my son. He was scared. He still (had) the mind of a 17-year-old because we babied him,” Wright told the Post.
Daunte Wright also had a 2-year-old, his father told the newspaper. He said Wright dropped out of high school because of a learning disability but worked various retail and restaurant jobs to support his son.
“He was a great kid,” Wright told the Post. “He was a normal kid. He was never in serious trouble. He enjoyed spending time with his 2-year-old son. He loved his son.”
In a tweet Monday, civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton said he had spoken with Wright’s father and said his group, the National Action Network, “will stand w/ this family and demand justice in this matter.”
Family, friends join protests in Brooklyn Center
Wright’s family and friends were among those who gathered to march in the streets near where Wright was shot on Sunday.
At the police department, a large crowd was met with armored police officers who formed a riot line. The protest there had been largely peaceful up until that point.
Police issued dispersal orders and fired tear gas, flash bangs and rubber bullets into the crowd of around 500 people that had gathered, the Star-Tribune reported.
John Harrington, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said protesters started throwing rocks and other objects. The group had mostly dispersed by about 1:15 a.m. Monday.
The National Guard was activated and remained at the police station on Monday.
The shooting comes after at least two other cases in which Brooklyn Center police shot or Tased someone who later died in recent years.
In 2019, an autistic man, Kobe Dimock-Heisler, 21, was fatally shot during a scuffle with police. KARE-TV reported officers had first tried to Tase Dimock-Heisler, who grabbed a knife from a couch cushion before police shot him. No charges were filed against the officers in the case.
In 2015, a St. Paul man died days after he was Tasered by a Brooklyn Center police officer and hit his head. The Star-Tribune reported Sinthanouxay Khottavongsa, 57, was holding a crowbar and police responding to a report of a fight told him to drop it before Tasering him. Khottavongsa hit his head as he fell and died from the injuries, the newspaper reported.
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of CAIR- Minnesota, a chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the video showed that Wright was initially cooperating with the police.
“But regardless of all of that, he should be alive today and he’s not. This officer killed him, those three officers (at the scene) should be fired, the police chief should be fired, the city manager should be fired because and the fact that they did not even fire (the female officer who fired the fatal shot) after seeing the video yesterday is a testament to how our society continues to fail individuals in this industry of policing,” Hussein said.
In Minneapolis, photos shared on social media showed people gathering at the site of George Floyd’s death, which has turned into a memorial, and painting “Justice for Daunte Wright” on the street.