BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. – The police officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in a Minneapolis suburb and the city’s police chief have resigned, the mayor announced Tuesday.
The death of the 20-year-old Black man has shaken a city already unsettled after George Floyd died nearby during a police arrest last May, an incident that triggered nationwide protests calling for an end to racial injustice and police brutality. The trial of Floyd’s accused killer, former police officer Derek Chauvin, is now in its third week in Minneapolis.
Kim Potter, a 48-year-old officer and a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center Police Department, submitted her letter of resignation Tuesday morning, Mayor Mike Elliott said in a press conference. He said the city did not ask her to resign.
Police Chief Tim Gannon also resigned Tuesday. Commander Tony Gruenig, who has been with the department for 19 years, will take over as acting chief. City Manager Curt Boganey was also fired.
“We want to send the message to the community that we’re taking this situation very seriously,” Elliott said.
Gruenig said he was hoping to bring “some calm for the community” after protests rocked the area Monday night and resulted in about 40 arrests. Gruenig said he was informed of his change in status not long before Tuesday’s conference.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension identified Potter as the officer who shot Wright on Sunday. The Hennepin Medical Examiner said Wright died of a gunshot wound to the chest and classified his death as a homicide.
Gannon said he believed Potter mistook her firearm for her Taser when she shot Wright. The department released body-camera footage of the incident during which Potter shouted “Taser” several times before firing.
Wright’s family called for the officer to be held accountable in an emotional press conference with civil rights attorney Ben Crump on Tuesday,
“I hope that since she went ahead and she resigned that they hold her at the highest because she was the law,” said Wright’s aunt, Naisha Wright.
Crump said he was stunned when he heard news that another Black man had been killed at the hands of police 10 miles north of where former officer Derek Chauvin is on trial in Floyd’s death.
“If you told me and I didn’t see little Daunte’s face and his mother and grandmother crying, I wouldn’t believe it,” Crump said during alongside the Wright and Floyd families.
Crump said he thought during the trial “that police would be on their best behavior, that they would exercise the greatest standard of care, that they would concentrate on de-escalation in a way they have never concentrated in America.”
Katie Wright, Wright’s mother, called the day her son died “the worst day of my life.” She described the phone call she received as he was pulled over and how after he was shot, the woman who was in the passenger seat video-called her – and she saw her son lifeless in the driver seat of the car.
“I never imagined this was what was going to happen. I just thought that he was getting arrested,” Wright said.
“They murdered my nephew,” Naisha Wright added, saying her great nephew was now “fatherless. Not over a mistake, over murder.”
Gannon said officers tried to arrest Wright because of an outstanding warrant.
Court records show Wright was being sought after failing to appear in court on charges that he fled from officers and possessed a gun without a permit during an encounter with Minneapolis police in June.
Video from Potter’s body camera shows an officer on the driver side of Wright’s car being to arrest Wright when Potter steps forward and grabs Wright’s arm.
Wright then appears to reenter the driver seat in a struggle in the video. Potter is heard shouting “Taser” as she draws her firearm and shoots Wright. Wright drives away, and Potter is heard shouting, “Oh (expletive), I just shot him.”
Wright’s father told “Good Morning America” on Tuesday he could not accept police’s explanation of what happened during the stop.
“I lost my son. He is never coming back. I can’t accept that. A mistake? That doesn’t even sound right,” he said.
Criminal charges could be drafted soon
Potter was identified late Monday by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the state agency leading the investigation into Wright’s death.
According to the Star Tribune, Potter, 48, became a police officer in 1995 and has served on the department’s negotiation team.
Potter was also one of the first officers on the scene of a fatal police shooting in 2019, when officers shot an autistic man, Kobe Dimock-Heisler, who had allegedly grabbed a knife, the Star Tribune reported.
The newspaper, citing an investigative report from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, reported Potter told two officers involved in the shooting to “exit the residence, get into separate squad cars, turn off their body worn cameras, and to not talk to each other.”
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a statement Monday the Washington County Attorney would handle the case moving forward.
Prosecutors in the area have an agreement to refer cases of police use of deadly force that occur in their jurisdictions to other nearby prosecutors or the state attorney general.
The Washington County Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment, but County Attorney Pete Orput told the Star Tribune he hoped to have any criminal charges that may be brought in the case drafted by Tuesday or Wednesday.
Protests flare outside Brooklyn Center police department
The city braced Tuesday for the possibility of another night of protests. On Monday, crowds began gathering in the afternoon outside the police headquarters in Brooklyn Center and drew hundreds by the evening.
A drum beat incessantly, and people broke into frequent chants of “Daunte Wright!”
About 90 minutes after a 7 p.m. curfew deadline, police began firing gas canisters and flash-bang grenades to drive protesters away. Some protesters, wearing gas masks, picked up smoke canisters and threw them back toward police.
About 40 arrests were made ranging from curfew violation to rioting, Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matt Langer said Tuesday. Some officers suffered minor injuries from thrown objects during the protests, Langer added.
A candlelight memorial for Wright, including a raised fist statue, was erected where he was shot Monday night.
Demonstrators gathered in other cities around the U.S., too, drawing crowds in New York and Los Angeles, as well as in Oakland, California; Portland, Oregon; and Louisville, Kentucky.
The Minnesota Twins (MLB), Wild (NHL) and Timberwolves (NBA) all postponed home games scheduled for Monday.
Contributing: Elinor Aspegren, Erik Newland and Jorge Ortiz; The Associated Press