MINNEAPOLIS: Wright, 20, was pulled over in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center on Sunday.
The white suburban police officer who fatally shot a young Black motorist during a traffic stop in a confrontation that ignited three nights of civil unrest was charged with manslaughter on Wednesday, a day after the officer turned in her badge.
Daunte Wright, 20, was pulled over in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center on Sunday for what police said was an expired vehicle registration, then struggled with police and was shot dead by officer Kim Potter, 48, who drew her handgun instead of a Taser in what officials called an accident.
The shooting escalated tensions in a region already on edge over the ongoing trial of the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder in the use of deadly force against George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man suspected of passing a bogus $20 bill, last May.
Potter, a 26-year department veteran, was taken into custody by agents of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension at the agency’s office in nearby St. Paul, authorities said.
She was charged with second-degree manslaughter and booked into Hennepin County jail, where she will await her first court appearance in the case, prosecutors said in a statement. Potter was being held without bond, jail records showed.
Protesters assembled outside Brooklyn Center police headquarters for a third night on Tuesday, some throwing bottles and other projectiles over a fence surrounding the building. Officers fired teargas, nonlethal rounds and flash-bang rounds, to disperse the crowd.
GUN VS TASER
In a police video of the shooting, Potter shouts, “Taser, Taser, Taser!” as she pulls her weapon and opens fire on Wright in his car after he had just scuffled with a fellow officer, then she is heard to say, “Holy shit, I just shot him.”
City Police Chief Jim Gannon, who also resigned on Tuesday, has said the shooting appeared to have been accidental.
But Wright’s family members and their lawyer have rejected the notion that an accident was to blame for his death.
The Washington County Attorney’s Office said Potter was acting as her partner’s field training officer at the time of the shooting.
“Certain occupations carry an immense responsibility and none more so than a sworn police officer,” Imran Ali, assistant criminal division chief and director of the major crimes unit for the County Attorney’s Office, said in the statement.
“We will vigorously prosecute this case and intend to prove that Officer Potter abrogated her responsibility to protect the public when she used her firearm rather than her Taser,” he said. “Her action caused the unlawful killing of Mr. Wright, and she must be held accountable.”
After pulling Wright over on Sunday, officers discovered there was a warrant out for his arrest, according to the official police account of the confrontation. He died of a single gunshot wound to the chest, the coroner concluded in an autopsy that ruled the case a homicide.
To convict Potter of second-degree manslaughter under Minnesota law, prosecutors must show that she was “culpably negligent” and took an “unreasonable risk” in her actions against Wright. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
Attorney Benjamin Crump, representing Wright’s family, said in a statement on Wednesday that the charge fell short of fulfilling a greater need for police reform in the United States.
“While we appreciate that the district attorney is pursuing justice for Daunte, no conviction can give the Wright family their loved one back. This was no accident. This was an intentional, deliberate, and unlawful use of force.
“Driving while Black continues to result in a death sentence,” Crump said.
TASER USE AN ISSUE
The shooting has renewed criticism of discretionary vehicle stops for minor traffic violations, in which police officers have legal leeway to act on racial bias, civil rights advocates say.
It has also drawn attention to potential issues with the use of Tasers by police officers, with some experts saying problems persist with training and the weapon’s design.
Potter is at least the third U.S. law enforcement officer to face charges after claiming they mistakenly killed someone with a gun when they meant to use a Taser.
The previous two are former Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer Johannes Mehserle, who fatally shot a man named Oscar Grant in 2009 in Oakland, California, and reserve deputy Robert Bates, who killed Eric Harris in Oklahoma in 2015.
Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison. Bates was sentenced to four years in prison for second-degree manslaughter.
Wright was killed in Hennepin County, just miles from the Minneapolis courthouse where the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis policeman charged with murdering Floyd last May, is taking place.
Potter’s case was referred to nearby Washington County under a year-old, five-county agreement to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest in police use-of-deadly-force cases.
Floyd, 46, who died in handcuffs with his neck pinned to the street under Chauvin’s knee, became the face of protests against racism and police brutality across the United States last year.