OBSERVATIONS OF KIM POTTER TRIAL - PART TWO
The trial restarted on Monday morning (12/13/2021) with the medical examiner testifying about the cause and manner of Daunte Wright’ death. He described the effects a hollow point bullet has on body parts and what internal organs were damaged by the bullet. The bullet went through Daunte’s left lung, the front lower parts of his heart, and then his left lung, lodging in between his 4th & 5th ribs in the muscle just inside his right side. It fortunately did not exit his body and cause further harm to others in the vicinity. But that’s what hollow point bullets are designed to do. The ME concluded that Daunte’s injuries were not survivable, and he would have been dead within seconds to a minute after being shot. No amount of heroic medical intervention could have saved Daunte.
Next, the investigators from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension testified about the investigation. The most interesting part of that was the testimony regarding the difference between a Taser and a gun. They showed pictures of the mostly yellow Taser (with black handle and a small part of it on the top was black). The gun weighs 2.11 lbs. and a Taser weighs .94 lbs., less than half the weight of the gun. The grip of the Taser is shorter, such that you can’t get all your fingers around it. Also, the texture of a Taser is smooth whereas the gun is textured. The method of removing the Taser out of the holster is different depending on which direction the handle is pointing. In Potters case, her gun had to be “rock drawn” and her Taser was drawn straight up (that was demonstrated). When you turn the Taser on there is a beep and a flashlight comes on. There are also two lasers (green and red) so that when you point the Taser the lasers shine on the target. There is a police department policy that states that all officers “should” spark test their Taser before each shift. This test was demonstrated. It was revealed that Kim Potter during her last ten shifts before the shooting tested her Taser 4 of the 10 days and had not tested it for two days prior to the shooting. Because the policy does not say “shall” many of the officers that testified downplayed the fact that Potter did not test her Taser. They said others didn’t do that either.
A lot of time was spent on the training given to police officers at Brooklyn Center PD and policies and procedures. Over the course of her 26-year career, Potter attended 17,000 credit hours of training, including annual recertification training on the Taser from 2002 on. She was given a new version of the Taser and trained and certified on it on March 2nd. She received the new version of the Taser on March 26. She had 10 shifts with new Taser (testing it only 4 times) before the fatal incident.
It should also be noted that Potter never received a complaint or charge of misconduct during her career. All the evidence revealed she was a good cop and went above and beyond her duty, volunteering to help domestic violence survivors and family members of fallen officers.
One of the issues raised during discussions about training on Tasers is that a Taser should not be used on someone who is “operating a motor vehicle.” It was pointed out that Tasers are not “precision aimed weapons” and only work successfully 67% of the time. One of the issues in contention will be whether it was proper procedure to use the Taser on Daunte as he was sitting at the wheel of the car. The Defense argues it was proper and the State argues it wasn’t.
The State’s expert witness opined that Potter’s use of a gun was an unreasonable use of deadly force. Later on in the trial, Potter testified that she never intended to use deadly force, which implies that she knew it would have been unreasonable. The expert used that fact as evidence that there was no threat of imminent bodily harm or death to Sgt. Johnson, which is what the defense is trying to argue. Also, the fact that she thought she was using a Taser proves that she never intended to use deadly force and there was no imminent threat to anyone else.
There was an issue as to whether Potter was too close to Daunte (it appeared to be between 2-3’ away) to effectively use the Taser. The State’s expert said that it was too close because there would not have been enough room to get the proper spread between the two prongs. The new Taser 7 that had been issued to Potter on March 26 did not have a close-quarter’s cartridge. Of course, the Defense expert had a completely different opinion. He said that because Daunte was sitting down it would have worked. That really didn’t make any sense to me.
The State’s expert also pointed out that because there were so many people in close proximity to Daunte Wright, like both Officers Luckey and Johnson and the passenger, there was considerable risk in using a Taser. Plus, the fact that Johnson was preventing Daunte from driving off by having his hand on the gear shift and then later had control over Daunte’s hand, while Luckey had Daunte’s left hand in his grip, there was no threat of Daunte driving away at the moment Potter decided to use the Taser. They had control over him. When Potter warned for the second time that she was going to tase Daunte, Johnson began to withdraw from the car. At the point Potter yelled “Taser, Taser, Taser,” and then shot Daunte, both officers had let go of Daunte and jumped away from the vehicle, allowing Daunte to put the car in drive at which time the car immediately drove away at that point.
When the Defense team hired their expert, they only asked him to render an opinion about the use of the Taser. He concluded that it was reasonable. The issue of whether the use of deadly force was reasonable came up when Johnson testified that he was afraid he was going to be dragged by the car and offered his own opinion that the use of the gun was reasonable. The Defense expert then was asked, based on this new testimony, whether he agreed with that conclusion and he said that he did. He qualified his opinion by stating that Potter would have to tell the jury that she saw Johnson in the car and believed he was in imminent danger.
During the Defense case-in-chief, 5 witnesses testified as to Potter’s reputation and character. They all said she was a good cop, law abiding and peaceful. All but one of the witnesses were cops that she had worked with. Potter resigned from the force the day after the shooting. Her chief of police, who was a character witness, testified that he was forced to resign in lieu of resignation because he refused to fire her. Her fellow officers rallied to her support during this trial. This was clearly a case of the Thin Blue Line in support of one of their own.
On the 8th and last day of trial, the Defense called an “expert” on police psychology and rambled on about the stages of learning and memory and how the more you do something or practice something, the less you have to think about it. Frankly, I almost immediately forgot something he said, a second after he said it. He made up concepts called “action errors” and “slip and capture” and spoke at length about them. One example he used to explain “action errors” is when you accidentally write the wrong year on a check during January. That is a far cry from mixing up a gun and a Taser. The prosecutor succeeded in pointing out that his theories were junk science and decided not to call their own expert in rebuttal.
The final witness was Kim Potter. On the salient issues in conflict, she testified that she believed conducting a “spark test” on her Taser every day was not necessary because it was a new Taser with a full battery. She testified that she never deployed the Taser out on patrol. She said she might have taken it out of her holster a few times, like once when she was preparing to open a door and she didn’t know who was behind it, but she never deployed it. On cross examination, the prosecutor questioned her about two incidents when she pulled her Taser out and on one occasion, she didn’t use it because she was afraid of hitting her partner. Potter didn’t remember the incident, but she acknowledged the report and said it might have happened. She was also questions about the difference between a Taser and a gun and she didn’t know that the Taser weighed less than a gun, whether it beeped when you turned it on, or any of the other distinguishing features. She also had no idea whether it had a close-quarter cartridge in it. She was dismissive about the training and the warnings, which to me suggests she was negligent at the least, if not reckless in the operation of her weapons.
When she started to talk about the day in question, she started to tear up. When she talked about Officer Luckey’s decision to pull Daunte over because of the expired tags and air freshener, she testified that if she had been alone on patrol, she would not have stopped him. This seemed to come out of the blue and I wonder if she said this to dispel the notion that she was prone to racial profiling. Race has not been raised as an issue in this case at all, but it certainly is on the minds of the public who is outraged that another Black man has been killed by a white officer.
When Luckey asked Daunte to get out of the car, he turned him around just to the right of the open car door to cuff him. The better practice would have been to take the suspect to the back of the car away from an open door to prevent them from sliding into the car easily. Potter was asked about this, and she made a mental note of Luckey’s actions with the intention of correcting him afterwards. She said she didn’t correct him at the time because it would have embarrassed him. This turned out to be a fatal mistake.
About the crucial question in this case, Potter testified that she could see Sgt. Johnson’s hand and his face when he was leaning into the passenger side of the car. She testified that “he had a look of fear on his face."
After Potter shot Daunte, she doesn’t remember anything else that happened until later that evening. On cross examination, she kept saying she didn’t remember things, yet she clearly remembers the look on Johnson’s face. I have looked at the video of the body worn camera that was on Potter’s body and, recognizing that it is located at about the middle of her chest and not at her eye level, it is the only evidence of what she could have possibly seen and I could not see Johnson’s head or face at any time during the 14 seconds from when Daunte got back into the car to when she pulled the trigger. This is the crucial issue the jury will have to determine, and I suspect they’ll be watching the videos very carefully.
The prosecutor on cross-examination was able to use the psychologist expert’s report recounting an interview he conducted with Potter during the course of his investigation to impeach Potter. It was quite effective. Potter told Dr. Miller that she did not know why she used her Taser. But now she’s saying it was because Johnson was in fear. Will the jury believe what she’s saying at trial or what she said before the trial?
Potter was clearly distraught about what she did. She broke down sobbing on at least two occasions. She stated emphatically, “I’m sorry it happened.” It remains to be seen whether this will sway the jury like Kyle Rittenhouse swayed his jury.
On Monday there will be closing arguments and jury instructions and then the deliberations will begin.
I'm not going to go out on a limb to make a prediction because this is a very difficult case with lots of moving parts and legal challenges for the prosecution. From my very cursory research there have been only about 20 cases of a police officer mixing up a gun and Taser. Only 3 cases have been successfully prosecuted. My strong take-away is that the Taser company should redesign the Taser, so it does not look like a gun. Whose idea was that anyway?