Minnesota officer who shot Daunte Wright after traffic stop charged with manslaughter
The white suburban police officer who fatally shot a young Black motorist during a traffic stop in Minnesota, igniting several 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 on Sunday in Brooklyn Center, just outside Minneapolis, for what police said was an expired vehicle registration, then struggled with police and was shot to death by officer Kimberly 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 last May against George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who was suspected of passing a bogus $20 bill.
Potter, a 26-year department veteran, was taken into custody by agents of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension at its office in nearby St. Paul, authorities said.
She was booked into Hennepin County jail on a charge of second-degree manslaughter but released hours later after posting $100,000 bond, according to jail records. Her first court appearance was set for Thursday at 1:30 p.m. (1830 GMT).
Hundreds of protesters massed outside Brooklyn Center police headquarters for a fourth night on Wednesday, attending a rally that was mostly peaceful as organizers urged the crowd to remain orderly as darkness fell.
Groups of demonstrators, however, persisted in taunting a column of sheriff's deputies posted behind a chain-link fence in front of the building and throwing objects over the barrier, prompting officers to periodically approach the fence and douse those on the other side with pepper spray. Flash-bang rounds also were fired.
Similar activity on Tuesday night ended two hours before a 10 p.m. curfew with deputies advancing on protesters with volleys of tear-gas, rubber bullets and flash-bangs to disperse the crowd.
Responding to criticism that law enforcement over-reacted in a heavy-handed manner, Mayor Mike Elliott said on Wednesday that the sheriff's office, rather than city police, was handling crowd-control operations.
"Gassing, in my opinion, is not a humane way of policing," Elliott told reporters on Wednesday. He also urged demonstrators to remain peaceful, saying: "The eyes of the world are on Brooklyn Center."
Elliott later joined a small gathering of Wright's relatives and supporters at a newly erected memorial, featuring a wooden sculpture of a clenched fist, near the spot where Wright was slain.
GUN VS. TASER
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.
In a police video of the shooting, Potter shouts: "Taser, Taser, Taser!" as she draws her weapon and opens fire on Wright in his car after he had just pulled away from 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.
The Washington County Attorney's Office, which brought the case, 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, head of the county attorney's major crimes unit, said in a statement.
Prosecutors will seek to prove that 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."
Potter's handgun and Taser were holstered on opposite sides of her belt in such a way that she would have had to use her left hand to draw the electric-stun device, the county attorney's office said. Instead, she pulled her Glock 9mm pistol with her right hand.
The prosecutors also said Potter's partner officer, Anthony Luckey, had determined after stopping Wright that he had an outstanding warrant for a "gross misdemeanor weapons charge."
'THIS WAS NO ACCIDENT'
Wright died of a single gunshot wound to the chest, the coroner concluded in an autopsy that ruled the case a homicide.
Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, representing Wright's family, said the case brought against Potter fell short of fulfilling a greater need for police reform in the United States.
"This was no accident. This was an intentional, deliberate, and unlawful use of force," Crump said in a statement. "Driving while Black continues to result in a death sentence."
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.
Wright was shot just miles from the Minneapolis courthouse where the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former policeman charged with murdering Floyd last May, is taking place.
Floyd, who died in handcuffs with his neck pinned to the street under Chauvin's knee, became the face of a national movement against racial injustice and police brutality as protests against his killing swept the United States last year in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
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