A white former suburban Minneapolis police officer was charged Wednesday with second-degree manslaughter for killing 20-year-old Black motorist Daunte Wright in a shooting that ignited days of unrest and clashes between protesters and police.
The charge against former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter, who resigned Tuesday, was filed three days after Wright was shot and killed during a traffic stop. It also comes as the murder trial for the police officer charged with killing George Floyd last May continues nearby.
Former Brooklyn Center police Chief Tim Gannon, who also resigned Tuesday, has said that Potter, a 26-year veteran and training officer, intended to use her Taser on Wright but fired her handgun instead. However, protesters and Wright's family members say there's no excuse for the shooting and that it shows how the justice system is tilted against Black people, noting that Wright was stopped for expired car registration and ended up dead.
"Certain occupations carry an immense responsibility and none more so than a sworn police officer," Imran Ali, Washington County assistant criminal division chief, said in a statement announcing the charge against Potter.
"[Potter's] action caused the unlawful killing of Mr. Wright and she must be held accountable."
Maximum penalty: 10 years
Ali said he and Washington County Attorney Pete Orput met with Wright's family and assured them that no resources would be spared in prosecuting the case.
Intent isn't a necessary component of second-degree manslaughter in Minnesota.
The charge — which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison — can be applied in circumstances where a person is suspected of causing a death by "culpable negligence" that creates an unreasonable risk and consciously takes chances to cause the death of a person.
Potter, 48, was arrested Wednesday morning at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in St. Paul. She was booked into Hennepin County jail on a charge of second-degree manslaughter but released hours later on $100,000 US bond, according to jail records. Her first court appearance was set for Thursday at 1:30 p.m. CT.
Officer's house barricaded
Brooklyn Center announced a curfew of 10 p.m. Wednesday — the fourth night in a row that the city has taken that action. Elliott, the mayor, urged people to protest without violence, saying "your voices have been heard."
As darkness fell, a crowd of a few hundred demonstrators had gathered outside the Brooklyn Center police headquarters for a fourth, tense night. Video showed one protestor carrying the head of a fake pig on a pole near a fence outside the heavily guarded station and police monitoring the crowd from the structure's rooftop.
"Say his name! Daunte Wright!" demonstrators chanted under a mix of snow and rain.
Shortly after 9 p.m., police announced over a loudspeaker that the protest was an unlawful assembly and ordered people to disperse.
Outside Potter's home in Champlin, north of Brooklyn Center, concrete barricades and tall metal fencing had been set up and police cars were in the driveway. After Floyd's death last year, protesters demonstrated several times at the home of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis officer now on trial in Floyd's death.
Police say Wright was pulled over for expired tags on Sunday, but they sought to arrest him after discovering he had an outstanding warrant. The warrant was for his failure 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.
Body camera video that Gannon released Monday shows Potter approaching Wright as he stands outside of his car as another officer is arresting him.
An instructor with Brooklyn Center police, Potter was training two other officers when they stopped Wright, the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association told the Star Tribune newspaper.
"I'll Tase you! I'll Tase you! Taser! Taser! Taser!" Potter is heard shouting in the video. She draws her weapon after Wright breaks free from police and gets back behind the wheel.
After firing a single shot from her handgun, the car speeds away, and Potter is heard saying, "Holy shit! I shot him."
Experts say cases of officers mistakenly firing their gun instead of a Taser are rare, usually less than once a year nationwide.
The news release announcing the charge noted that Potter holstered her handgun on the right side and her Taser on the left. To remove the Taser — which is yellow and has a black grip — Potter would have to use her left hand, the county attorney's statement said.
Wright family attorney Ben Crump said the family appreciates the criminal case, but he again disputed that the shooting was accidental, arguing that an experienced officer knows the difference between a Taser and a handgun.
"Kim Potter executed Daunte for what amounts to no more than a minor traffic infraction and a misdemeanor warrant," he said.
Wright was killed just miles from the Minneapolis courthouse where Chauvin's murder trial is taking place.
Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died last May after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee on the back of Floyd's neck for around nine minutes as two other officers held him down. Video captured by a bystander showed Floyd, who was handcuffed, repeatedly say he couldn't breathe.
Floyd became the face of national protests against racism and police brutality across the U.S. last summer.
With files from Reuters
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