AMY FORLITY and SCOTT BAUER
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – The Minnesota police officer who shot Dount Wright told a jury at Friday’s manslaughter trial that she “didn’t want to hurt anyone” that day, saying during occasionally tearful testimony that she shouted a warning about using her Electrocutioner about Wright after she saw fear on the face of a fellow officer.
Kim Potter, 49, said she was about to draw her stun gun instead of a pistol during a traffic stop on April 11 at Brooklyn Center when she killed Wright. She stated that she was “sorry it happened” and that she does not remember what she said or anything that happened after the shooting, saying that most of her memories of these moments are “missing.”
Potter is charged with first and second degree manslaughter in the murder of Wright, a 20-year-old black motorist who was stopped for having expired license plates and air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror. Potter, who was training another officer at the time, said she probably wouldn’t have stopped Wright’s car if she was alone that day, because many drivers were late updating their tags at the time of the pandemic.
After she and two other officers at the scene that day decided to arrest Wright on the basis of an unfulfilled gun-handling warrant, the meeting “just got chaotic,” Potter told the jury. Wright pulled himself away from the cops and returned to his car, as seen in video footage of the traffic stop.
“I remember shouting ‘Taser, stun gun, stun gun,’ and nothing happened, and then he told me I shot him,” Potter said through tears. On video from her body camera, it was recorded that Wright said, “Oh, he shot me” moments after the shooting.
Potter’s lawyers argued that she made a mistake, but it would also have been justified to use lethal force if she intended to do so, because one of the other officers, then a sergeant. Michal Johnson risked getting into Wright’s car.
Johnson testified last week that he bent over to the car to make sure the gear lever was in the parked position and turn off the car, and that he grabbed Wright’s right arm with both hands while trying to handcuff him. At the time, he said that he could not see what Potter was doing, but began to back down when he heard Potter scream, “Teyser!”
The composite video appeared to show Johnson’s hands were still in the car when the shot was fired.
Potter said nothing in court about the error, and she seemed to give a chronology of what happened without explaining what she was thinking.
During cross-examination, Attorney Erin Eldridge noted that Potter testified that she decided to draw her stun gun after seeing Johnson looking scared. Potter agreed that it was her testimony. But Eldridge said that Potter told the defense expert that she didn’t know why she pulled out her stun gun. Citing an expert report, Eldridge said that Potter said, “I have no answer, my brain said, take the stun gun.” Potter told the court that she didn’t remember saying that.
Eldridge also got Potter to say that she had no intention of using lethal force.
Eldridge worked hard to train Potter, forcing her to agree that her training in the use of force was a “key component” of being an officer. Potter testified that she was also trained in when and to what extent to use force, and that there were policies that dictated what officers might or might not do.
Potter testified during interrogation by one of her lawyers that she did not have training on “gun confusion,” saying that it was mentioned in the training but was not something that her department officers were physically trained to do. She also said that she had never used a stun gun while on duty during her 26 years in the military, although she pulled it out several times to defuse the situation, and that she had never used her pistol until the day she shot Wright. …
Potter, who trained Officer Anthony Lucky, said Lucky spotted Wright’s car on the headland with an inappropriate signal, then saw air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror, as well as expired tags.
She said that Lucky wanted to stop the car, and while she “most likely” would not have done so if she was on patrol herself, it is important for the trainees to meet a lot with the public. She said that after they found Wright’s arrest warrant, they were required to take him into custody.
She said they also had to find out who Wright’s passenger was, because the woman – another, as it turned out – had issued a restraining order on him.
While attorney Earl Gray walked her through what happened, he didn’t ask her if she was going to draw a stun gun. A prosecution witness testified earlier this week that she would not choose to use her stun gun if she believed there was a risk that it could result in death or serious injury.
Potter, who retired two days after the shooting, was outspoken and gave concise answers to much of the cross-examination.
When questioned by her own lawyer, Potter said that after the shooting, she was undergoing therapy, left Minnesota and no longer works for the police. She said that she quit the police force because “so much bad was happening there. … I didn’t want anything bad to happen to the city. “
Wright’s death sparked angry demonstrations for several days at the Brooklyn Center. This happened when another white officer, Derek Choven, was brought to trial in nearby Minneapolis for the murder of George Floyd.
Before Potter spoke, a defense witness testified that police officers may mistakenly draw pistols instead of stun guns in stressful situations because their experience takes over.
Lawrence Miller, a psychologist who teaches at Florida Atlantic University, said the more someone repeats the same action, the less they need to think about it. Miller said that when a person learns a new skill, the memory of the old skill can override it, resulting in an “action error,” in which the planned action has an unintended effect.
“You intend to do one thing, you think you are doing it, but you are doing something else, and only later do you realize that the action you intended to do was not the one you took,” he said.
Some experts are skeptical about the theory. Jeffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina who is not involved in the Potter trial, said there was no science behind it.
During cross-examination, Eldridge cited a 2010 article by Miller in which he described how the police can avoid what he called “one big mistake.” He wrote that many of these mistakes can be prevented with proper training and practice.
The state’s sentencing guidelines provide for just over seven years in prison for first-degree manslaughter and four years for second-degree manslaughter, although prosecutors say they plan to get longer sentences.
Both sides will present their closing arguments on Monday before the case is referred to a predominantly white jury.
Bauer reported from Madison, Wisconsin. Associated Press contributors Tammy Webber of Fenton, Michigan and Steve Karnovski of Minneapolis also contributed.
Find full coverage of the Dunte Wright case at AP: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-daunte-wright