Former police officer Kimberly Potter was charged with second-degree manslaughter on Wednesday after fatally shooting the 20-year-old Black motorist Daunte Wright, officials said.
The white former suburban Minneapolis police officer was arrested earlier in the day in relation to the shooting dead of Wright during a traffic stop on Sunday in Brooklyn Center, a suburb of Minneapolis.
The killing of Wright ignited days of unrest and clashes between protesters and police.
The charge against Potter was filed on Wednesday, three days after Wright was killed during a traffic stop and as the nearby murder trial progresses for the ex-officer charged with killing George Floyd last May, the Washington county attorney Pete Orput said.
“Certain occupations carry an immense responsibility and none more so than a sworn police officer,” said Imran Ali, Washington county assistant criminal division chief and director of the major crime unit, in a statement announcing the charge and as second-degree manslaughter charges were due to be unsealed.
“With that responsibility comes a great deal of discretion and accountability. We will vigorously prosecute this case and intend to prove that Officer Potter abrogated her responsibility to protect the public when she used her firearm rather than her Taser. Her action caused the unlawful killing of Mr Wright and she must be held accountable,” he added.
A second-degree manslaughter conviction carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Potter, 48, resigned on Tuesday after 26 years as a police officer and Tim Gannon, the police chief of the small city on the outskirts of Minneapolis, Brooklyn Center, where the shooting happened, also resigned.
On Monday Gannon had announced that Potter accidentally shot Wright dead when she mistakenly drew her gun having intended to reach for her Taser stun gun instead.
According to the criminal complaint, at 1.53pm on Sunday, a Brooklyn Center police officer, Anthony Luckey, and his field training officer, Potter, pulled over a white Buick at 63rd and Orchard Avenues North in Brooklyn Center. Officer Luckey checked Wright’s identification and determined he had a warrant for a gross misdemeanor weapons charge.
Officer Luckey and Potter approached the driver’s side of the car and asked Wright to get out and place his hands behind his back. Wright did so and Officer Luckey told him he was being arrested for his outstanding warrant, the complaint states.
Wright and Officer Luckey were standing just outside of the driver’s side door, which was open, and Potter was standing behind and to the right of the other officer. At 2.01:49, Wright pulled away from the officers and got back into the driver’s seat of his car, with Officer Luckey trying to maintain physical control of Wright.
At 2.01:55, Potter said she would Tase Wright. She pulled her Glock 9mm handgun with her right hand and pointed it at Wright, saying again that she would Tase him. At 2.02, Potter said “Taser, Taser, Taser,” and pulled the trigger on her handgun at 2.02:01, firing one round into the left side of the victim, the complaint states.
Wright immediately said, “Ah, he shot me,” and the car sped away for a short distance before crashing into another vehicle and stopping. An ambulance was called and Wright was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the complaint.
According to the complaint, a Minnesota bureau of criminal apprehension investigator examined Potter’s duty belt and saw that the handgun was holstered on the right side of the belt and her Taser is on the left side. The grips or handles of both the gun and Taser faced Potter’s rear. The Taser is yellow with a black grip. Also, the Taser is set in a straight-draw position, meaning Potter would have to use her left hand to pull the Taser out of its holster.
After firing her gun, Potter said “Shit, I just shot him!”
On Monday, the Hennepin county medical examiner’s Office determined Wright died of a gunshot wound and the death was a homicide.
Demonstrators immediately took to the streets in Brooklyn Center on Sunday and for the following days and evenings. Residents were outraged not only at the death of yet another young Black man at the hands of police during heavy-handed arrests for minor alleged offences, but also complained of a history of racial profiling by the local police department.
Gannon had released Potter’s body-camera video the day after the Sunday shooting. It showed her approaching Wright as he stood outside his car as another officer was arresting him for an outstanding warrant. Police said he was pulled over for having expired registration tags.
Protesters and Wright’s family members say there is no excuse for the shooting and it shows how the justice system is tilted against Black people.
“This is nothing new. It’s been ongoing. It’s always like this,” Stacy Osagiede, 24, told the Guardian when asked if she thought Wright had been profiled by race when pulled over.
Wright’s father, Aubrey Wright, told ABC’s Good Morning America that he rejects the explanation that Potter mistook her gun for her Taser.
“I lost my son. He’s never coming back. I can’t accept that. A mistake? That doesn’t even sound right. This officer has been on the force for 26 years. I can’t accept that,” he said.
The Wright family’s attorney, Ben Crump, compared Wright’s death to that of Floyd. Wright, he said, “was not a threat” to the police.
Referring to Wright’s apparent action to get back into his car before he was shot by Potter, Crump said: “Was it the best decision? No. But young people don’t always make the best decisions. As his mother said, he was scared.”
Wright’s death also is under review by Minnesota bureau of criminal apprehension.
The Brooklyn Center mayor, Mike Elliott, said the city had been moving toward firing Potter, a 26-year veteran, when she resigned. The mayor said he hoped her resignation would “bring some calm to the community”, but that he would keep working toward “full accountability under the law”.
“We have to make sure that justice is served, justice is done. Daunte Wright deserves that. His family deserves that,” he added.