OBSERVATIONS OF KIM POTTER TRAIL - PART ONE - The killing of Daunte Wright
I have been watching the trial of Kim Potter, the former police officer from Brooklyn Center, Minnesota who shot Daunte Wright during a routine traffic stop. There have been three days of trial so far in which the prosecution has called Daunte’s mother, Katie Ann Bryant, the girlfriend who was in the car with Daunte, Officer Lucky (the officer who was in training riding with Kim Potter as his Field Training Officer (FTO)), Sergeant Johnson (the officer who answered the call to assist in the traffic stop and who was Lucky’s and Potter’s supervisor), Officer Salvosa (the first officer to arrive after the crash), the driver of the car who was hit by Daunte’s car, a neighborhood witness, and five other officers and inspectors who eventually arrived on the scene.
Kim Potter is facing two charges for the killing of Daunte Wright. The first is First Degree Manslaughter, which carries a sentence of not more than 15 years. Specifically, she is charged with causing the death of Daunte Wright while committing or attempting to commit a misdemeanor with such force and violence that death or great bodily harm was reasonably foreseeable. The misdemeanor she is charged with involved the reckless handling or use of a gun so as to endanger the safety of another.
The second charge is Second Degree Manslaughter, which carries a sentence of not more than 10 years. Specifically, she is charged with culpable negligence by creating an unreasonable risk, and consciously taking chances of causing death or great bodily harm.
Neither of the charges requiring a finding of intention to kill.
The State’s theory of the case is that Potter’s use of the gun was reckless and an excessive use of force under the circumstances, or at the least it was negligence, such that she was consciously aware that her conduct would cause death or great bodily harm. If she actually thought she was using a Taser, the State argues the use of it under the circumstances would be considered negligent because of the number of people in close proximity to being hit by the Taser.
The Defense’s argument is that she thought she was using a Taser and that the actual use of the gun was an accident. They also claim that because Daunte Wright was fleeing the scene in the car and Sergeant Johnson who had part of his body in the car was in danger of serious bodily harm or death that she was justified in Tasing Daunte. It was a reasonable use of force under the circumstances.
This is another case where the killing was caught on camera – the body cameras of the officers and the dashboard cameras in the squad cars. All three officers were wearing cameras and the jury has seen all of that footage.
Here are the facts so far. Daunte and his girlfriend spent the night at the girlfriend’s house the night before the incident. They had been getting to know each other for a few weeks online and had only just hooked up in the last few days. They woke up at 10 a.m. on April 11, smoked some weed, and Daunte decided he wanted to get his car washed and filled with gas.
The 2011 Buick LaCross that Daunte was driving had been in Daunte’s family for 10 years. Daunte’s brother, Dallas, owned it prior to the family deciding to give it to Daunte. The registration was still in Dallas’ name, and it was currently uninsured. The mother, Katie Bryant, was going to add the car to her and her husband’s insurance. The tags on the license were expired.
Daunte and his girlfriend drove to Katie Bryant’s house where Katie was taking care of Daunte’s son, Daunte, Jr. The girlfriend stayed in the car while Daunte ran in to borrow money from his mother. Daunte, Jr. had just gone down for a nap, so Katie asked Daunte to be quiet and leave, which he did. As they were driving, Daunte called his mother to ask where a carwash was, and they talked about it and decided they would go to the one in Brooklyn Center. Katie told Daunte not to call again for fear of waking Dante, Jr.
At a little before 2:00 p.m. Officer Lucky saw the white Buick and noticed it was using the wrong turn signal and noticed it had an air freshener attached to the rear-view mirror. Officer Lucky is a Black man familiar with the neighborhood and testified that he knew it to be a location where people had guns and it was not a safe neighborhood. He also noted that the tags were expired so he decided to pull Dante over. Potter was in passenger seat acting as his FTO and was there to advise him on procedure and protocol. She did not get out of the car when Lucky went to talk with Daunte. Prior to getting out of the car, Lucky called for back-up, and it was Sergeant Johnson who answered that call. This was common procedure because patrol officers do not ride in pairs and always call for backup for traffic stops.
When Lucky got to the car, he asked Daunte for his driver’s license and Daunte did not have one, but he gave him his name and birthdate. Lucky asked for insurance card and Daunte had to root around in the car for one. He explained the ownership situation and Lucky determined he was telling the truth – that is what he told Potter after he returned to the squad car. Lucky declared the scene “clear” over the radio before he checked the computer for Daunte’s information. Potter advised him it was premature to do that until you do a more thorough check, such as a criminal records check. So, Lucky did the full check and they found that Daunte had an outstanding warrant for a Gross Misdemeanor Weapons charge (which is essentially that Daunte was caught with a gun without having a license for it) and there was a Protective Order issued against him.
Meanwhile, while the officers are checking his status, Daunte calls his mother to ask for advice. He was using Facebook Messenger. While she was on the phone, she heard the officer return to the car and tell Daunte to get out of the car. Daunte put the phone on the dashboard, and it disconnected before the fatal shot was fired.
Before that, Johnson had arrived, parking his squad car behind Lucky’s. The three officers conferred and concluded that they needed to arrest Daunte because of the warrant and to identify the passenger to make sure she was not the person who had received the protective order. Johnson approached the passenger door and Lucky approached the driver’s door. Potter was walking behind Lucky standing about 3 feet away as they approached. Lucky asked Daunte to open the door, put his phone down, and get out of the car. Daunte did get out of the car and was cooperating as Lucky turned him to face the car so he could put cuffs on him. This was happening just to the right of the open driver’s side door. Daunte was asking what was going on. Johnson informed Daunte that he was under arrest. Then Lucky told Daunte he was under arrest and then Potter told him he was under arrest and that there was a warrant. Daunte stiffened up as Lucky was trying to cuff him and Lucky said, “Don’t do it, bro, don’t run.”
What happened next takes place in between 10-12 seconds. Daunte slips back into the car. Johnson opens the passenger door and puts his hand on the gear shift and tries to turn the key to the car (there is considerable confusion as to whether the car was running or not at this point – no one is clear on that). Lucky has his left hand on Daunte’s left arm and eventually Johnson has both hands on Daunte’s right arm. At the same time Johnson is leaning against the female passenger pinning her against the seat. A couple second later Potter has moved to in front of Lucky and has her gun in her right hand and yells that she is going to Taser him. She yells that twice and then starts yelling “Taser, Taser, Taser,” and pulls the trigger resulting in a loud bang which deafens Lucky and disorients Johnson who backs out of the car. All officers have backed off the car as a result of the bang and are stunned. In that split second, somehow Daunte puts the car into gear and steps on the gas. Then you hear Potter say, “I shot him” and “I pulled the wrong gun.”
The car drives a few yards down the road, hits the median, crosses into the oncoming traffic, hits a Subaru and comes to a full stop on the other side of the street, about one short block from where he was shot. The girlfriend hit her head on the front windshield causing her to break her jaw, bite her lip, and sustain a concussion. Somehow manages to call Katie Bryant again on FaceTime and is screaming that they shot him and pointed the camera at the dying Daunte so his mother could see him in his final dying moment, then the phone disconnected. Katie grabbed Daunte, Jr. and with the assistance of a neighbor arrived at the scene within 10 minutes only to find her son lying on the ground with a sheet over his body. She knew it was him because she recognized his shoes.
The girlfriend saw that Daunte was bleeding and tried to apply pressure on the wound. It was not too long after that she noticed he had stopped breathing. Another officer, Officer Salvosa, had been driving behind the Subaru that got hit by Daunte’s car and saw the crash in real time. He stopped his car, got out, drew his gun, and stood in the V behind his door yelling for the occupants to get out of the car with their hands up. He was not aware that Daunte had been shot. He had been responding to a “shots fired” call on the radio but had no further details. He did not know if there was a gun in the car, so was waiting for back-up. The windows were tinted so it was hard to see inside.
Approximately 5 minutes after Salvosa arrived, the girlfriend got out of the car and yelled that Daunte was not breathing. Meanwhile, about 10 more officers had gotten onto the scene and were organizing behind a ballistics shield and finally 10-12 officers, with guns drawn and rifles pointed at the car, creeped toward the car behind the shield, and once they declared the scene safe, finally pulled Daunte out of the car to start emergency medical aid on him. From the time of the crash to the time Daunte was pulled out of the car, at least 10 minutes had elapsed. A few minutes later, a paramedic declared Daunte dead and 16 minutes after the crash, Daunte’s body was covered with a white sheet.
Meanwhile, back at the scene of the shooting, Potter is hysterically screaming “Oh my God” over and over again. She said she killed him. In between the “Oh my Gods” she said that she was going to go to jail. A few minutes later she asked Johnson to call Chuck (her union representative). It does not appear that any of the three officers informed anyone at the crash scene that it was Potter who shot Daunte and that it was only one shot. The dozen officers at the scene of the crash were worried that there was still an active shooter so that is why they took the extraordinary precautions before approaching the car. The lack of communication between the three officers involved in the shooting and the crowd of officers at the scene of the accident was obvious.
The next few days of the trial will feature more testimony about the investigation, the medical examiner and use of force experts before the State rests its case in chief. The Defense intends to call Kim Potter and some experts of their own.
It is interesting to watch this trial after having watched the trial of Derek Chauvin, which took place in the same courthouse and it even looks like the same courtroom, with the same COVID precautions and people wearing masks when they are not speaking. Two out of the three prosecutors were on the Chauvin case as well, so it is like seeing old friends. The judge is a woman who has tight control over the proceedings and isn’t allowing unnecessary cumulative evidence to come in. It is going fairly smoothly.
I’m trying not to prejudge the case, but I can’t help but wonder if the Buick would have been stopped in a predominantly white neighborhood. The fact that the initial officer who decided to stop the car was Black, does not take away the fact that prejudgments were made because of the history of crime in the area and the fact that the driver was Black. No one has suggested the stop was unauthorized, but after this killing some MN state legislators introduced a law to repeal the law that prohibits drivers from hanging things from their mirrors because they argue that it leads to the targeting of Black drivers. Too little too late.