BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. – The Minnesota police officer who shot and killed Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old black man, after appearing to mistake his pistol for his Taser was arrested Wednesday and charged with second-degree murder after three nights of protests. about the slaughter.
The arrest of the officer, Kimberly A. Potter, who is white, came a day after she resigned from the Brooklyn Center Police Department, as did the suburban Minneapolis police chief. Hundreds of people have confronted police at the Brooklyn Center every night since Wright’s death on Sunday, demanding that the former officer be charged, even as the region is on edge amid the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer. Minneapolis charged with murdering George Floyd last May.
Peter J. Orput, the Washington County chief prosecutor, said Ms. Potter, 48, had been booked into jail and was awaiting a first court appearance.
Under Minnesota statutes, murder in the second degree can be applied in cases where someone has created an “unreasonable risk” and kills another person through negligence. The maximum penalty per conviction is 10 years in prison.
The involuntary manslaughter charge suggests that prosecutors agree with one version of events exposed by city officials, that Ms. Potter did not intend to kill Mr. Wright but had mixed up her weapons. Mr. Orput said that state investigators had determined that Ms. Potter holstered her Taser on her left side and her gun on her right, so she would have to use her left hand when drawing her Taser; Investigators found, she said, that she used her right hand to draw her gun Sunday.
A judge set bail for Ms. Potter at $ 100,000, or half that if she agrees to surrender her passport, surrender weapons or ammunition, and remain in Minnesota. Ms. Potter posted bail and was released from the Hennepin County Jail on Wednesday night. Ms. Potter’s attorney, Earl Gray, did not respond to a request for comment.
It was unclear whether the murder charge would quell the growing outrage over Mr. Wright’s death.
Ben Crump, an attorney for the Wright family, suggested in a statement that the murder was on purpose and warranted a more serious charge.
“While we appreciate that the district attorney is seeking justice for Daunte, no conviction can return their loved one to the Wright family,” Crump said. “This was not an accident. This was an intentional, deliberate and illegal use of force ”.
Ms. Potter, 48, worked for the Police Department for 26 years and was training a younger officer Sunday afternoon when Mr. Wright’s car was stopped. Authorities have said he had an expired registration on his car and something hanging from his rear view mirror. When officers discovered that Mr. Wright had an arrest warrant and attempted to detain him, he turned around and returned to his car.
In body camera footage released Monday, Ms. Potter warned that she would use a stun gun on Mr. Wright and then yelled “Taser!” three times before shooting once in his chest. Ms Potter could be heard swearing and saying, “I just shot him.” Tim Gannon, the police chief at the time, described the murder as an “accidental discharge.”
Steven Wright, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Law, said that second-degree manslaughter is a charge for crimes that are not planned; an example in the statute specifically addresses hunting accidents, something common in Minnesota.
“The key question is whether anyone acted reasonably under the circumstances, did they create this risk of harm,” Wright said. “The officer’s state of mind is at the core of what we ask the jury to decide. In this case, we are really talking about: is the accidental shooting forgivable or not?
Richard Frase, a professor of criminal law at the University of Minnesota, said the second-degree involuntary manslaughter statute is narrowly worded that the case may be difficult for prosecutors to prove, noting that it requires them to show that Mrs. Potter made a conscious judgment. possibility of “causing death or great bodily harm”.
“She thinks she’s shooting a Taser,” he said of the former officer. “How can we prove beyond reasonable doubt that she consciously risked at least causing great bodily harm?”
Mr. Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer, was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Mr. Floyd, but he also faces second-degree murder and third-degree murder charges and could be jailed for up to 40 years if convicted. of the most serious charge. The jury is expected to begin deliberating early next week.
Over several nights, Mr. Wright’s death has brought hundreds of people to the police station in Brooklyn Center, a Minneapolis suburb, where they have been greeted by members of the Minnesota National Guard and State Patrol police officers who have fired tear gas, rubber bullets and other projectiles at the crowd. Some of the protesters set off fireworks and threw rocks and bottles of water at the police. Officers arrested 79 people Tuesday night. Dozens of businesses in the region opened earlier in the week.
Katie Wright, Mr. Wright’s mother, has said her son called her after police detained him on Sunday and told her that he had been detained because an air freshener was hanging from his rearview mirror. She said that she had been driving with her girlfriend at the time and that she could hear “fear in her voice” when she called. Mr. Wright had a son, Daunte Jr., who is almost 2 years old.
Orput said Wednesday that the arrest warrant that led officers to try to arrest Wright stemmed from a misdemeanor weapons case. A judge had issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Wright earlier this month after he missed a court hearing on two misdemeanor charges for carrying a gun without a permit and escaping from police officers in Minneapolis. last June.
Mr. Orput, who oversees prosecutions in nearby Washington County, is prosecuting the case even though the shooting took place in Hennepin County; As part of recent reforms, prosecutors in the Twin Cities region refer police killings to prosecutors in another county to avoid conflicts of interest.
The local government of Brooklyn Center, a city of about 30,000 people, has been in crisis since Wright’s death. The City Council gave Mayor Mike Elliott more authority in the wake of Mr. Wright’s death and the city manager, who had previously overseen the Police Department, was fired. Elliott on Tuesday named an interim police chief who promised to work with the community, but admitted he had not yet formulated a plan on how to do so.
Elliott wrote on Twitter Wednesday after the charge was announced that Wright “should be alive and at home with his family.”