Daunte Wright’s mother and a police officer took the stand Wednesday as the first two witnesses in the manslaughter trial of ex-officer Kimberly Potter, who has said she mistook her gun for a Taser when she killed Wright during a traffic stop.
The shooting happened April 11 in Brooklyn Center, near Minneapolis, after police stopped Wright. During the stop, officers learned he had an outstanding warrant and tried to arrest him. Wright was trying to flee the scene when Potter yelled “Taser, Taser” and instead pulled out her gun and shot him.
Wright, the 20-year-old son of a Black father and a White mother, was also the father of a toddler.
Wright’s mother, Katie Bryant, cried while on the stand, testifying her son was “an amazing dad” and that she had just given him $50 for gas and a car wash before his death.
Officer Anthony Luckey — who was a trainee working with Potter at the time — testified he initially stopped Wright for an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror before things went awry. Body camera footage shown during his testimony also showed Potter saying “I’m gonna go to prison,” to which Luckey said she was not.
Their testimonies will help jurors determine whether Potter truly mistook her Taser for a gun. Multiple videos from the scene, some of which were shown Wednesday, will be central to the case and help paint a picture of the events surrounding the shooting.
Potter, 49, has pleaded not guilty to charges of first- and second-degree manslaughter. If convicted, she faces at least a decade in prison.
Wright’s death prompted several days of protests in the Minneapolis suburb. It rocked a metropolitan area scarred by other police-involved deaths and reignited national conversations about policing and the use of force against people of color.
Prosecutors and defense deliver opening statements
Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Erin Eldridge emphasized to the jury that officers take an oath “to protect life, not to take life,” and the prosecution played video of the fatal encounter.
The video clip showed Potter, with her gun drawn, warning Wright multiple times as he is getting back into the driver’s seat of his car that she is going to “tase” him. She then pulls the trigger.
After Potter appears to realize she shot Wright with her gun — not her Taser — the officer says, “Sh*t, I just shot him … I grabbed the wrong f**king gun. I shot him.”
The former Brooklyn Center police officer put her hands to her head and fell to the ground.
“There is no do-over when you take a young man’s life,” Eldridge said. “We trust them to know wrong from right, and left from right” — a reference to Tasers and guns being holstered on opposite sides of an officer’s body.
Defense attorney Paul Engh said in his opening statement all Wright “had to do was surrender.” Engh focused on Potter attempting to use a Taser on Wright in order to protect her partner, Sgt. Mychal Johnson, because he was inside Wright’s car and would be injured if Wright drove off.
“All he has to do is stop and he’d be with us,” Engh said of Wright.
“She realizes what has happened much to her everlasting and unending regret,” Engh said of the moment Potter realized she fired her gun instead of her Taser. “She made a mistake. This was an accident. She is a human being, but she had to do what she had to do to prevent a death to a fellow officer, too.”
Engh concluded his opening statement saying Potter’s “good name has been besmirched by this allegation, which is not true, and by the press coverage, which has been slanted.”
“We seek to reclaim it and reclaim it we will,” Engh said.
Potter is also being represented by attorney Earl Gray.
Potter is expected to testify in her own defense during the trial. The female passenger in Wright’s car is also expected to testify.
The jury includes seven White men, four White women, two Asian women and one Black woman. No Black men were selected for the jury.
The trial is taking place in the same courtroom where former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder in the death of George Floyd. But a different judge — Hennepin County Judge Regina M. Chu — is presiding over Potter’s trial.
Wright’s mother has tearful testimony on stand
Bryant, Wright’s mother, was the first witness the prosecution called Wednesday.
She began by describing Wright and saying he was a great father to his son, Daunte Jr. Jurors saw photos of Wright, including one in which the young father was wearing a hospital band, which allowed him to get into the neonatal intensive care unit to visit his premature baby.
“He would play with him. He would do everything that a father needs to do for his child. He was an amazing dad,” Bryant said through tears.
Bryant described the events in April when her son was fatally shot. Soon after she gave Wright money for gas and the car wash, he called and said police had pulled him over, Bryant said.
Wright sounded nervous, Bryant said, and asked whether he was in trouble. She told him he hadn’t done anything wrong and “reassured him that it would be OK.”
Bryant heard an officer tell her son to step out of the car before the call disconnected, she said. She called several more times before making a FaceTime call to Wright.
A woman answered the phone screaming, she said, saying her son had been shot.
“She faced the phone towards the driver’s seat. My son was laying there, he was unresponsive, and he looked dead,” Bryant said. “And then I heard somebody say ‘hang up the phone’ again and it disconnected again.”
Bryant said she called 911 to get the address of her son’s shooting. She was so distraught that a neighbor drove her to the scene, where she stayed for hours, refusing to leave until his body was removed, she said. She told jurors her son’s body was covered with a white sheet and she recognized him by his tennis shoes.
Eldridge, the prosecutor, played body camera video of Bryant running to officers. The officers told Bryant they weren’t on scene for the shooting and asked her to tell them what happened.
“It was the worst day of my life,” she said.
Bryant said she still has scars on the inside of her mouth from biting the insides of her cheeks so hard.
“I thought it was a dream and if I bit the insides of my cheeks then I would wake up. But I didn’t wake up,” she said.
During cross examination, Bryant told Engh she knew her son did not have a driver’s license. She said she did not know there was a warrant for Wright’s arrest and that he used marijuana.
Brooklyn Center officer explains why he stopped Wright
Luckey was a trainee officer working with Potter the day of the shooting.
The jury was shown body camera and patrol car footage during his testimony. The footage showed the moment Potter shot Wright as a struggle ensued while attempting to arrest him.
Potter can be heard saying, “I’ll tase ya,” before shooting Wright. “I just shot him. I grabbed the wrong f**king gun,” Potter said. “I shot him. Oh my God.”
“Oh my God,” Potter added while crying. Potter continued to yell, “Oh my God,” numerous times while lying face down on the grass, according to body camera footage.
When recounting the moments that led up to the shooting, Luckey testified that while on patrol with Potter, he encountered Wright’s vehicle and observed the white Buick had its right blinker on in the left turning lane. He then immediately ran the registration of the license plate, which had expired registration tabs on the plate.
Luckey also told prosecutors he saw “there was an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror as well,” which is a “common violation of the law.”
Luckey requested another officer come to assist with the traffic stop.
“Given what I knew, from what I observed and my intuition, I just decided to have an officer assist me on a traffic stop,” Luckey said.
As Luckey approached Wright’s car, he explained why he stopped him — which “was for the air freshener” — and asked about his expired tags.
Luckey said he noticed marijuana residue in the vehicle and smelled marijuana odor. He noted that his interaction with Wright was respectful, and he had no reason to believe he had a weapon.
When he returned to his squad car, Luckey ran Wright’s information through the system, and it showed Wright had an outstanding warrant for a “gross misdemeanor weapons charge” and an “order of protection for a female.”
At some point, another officer, Sgt. Mychal Johnson, arrived and Luckey told him his plan to take Wright out of the vehicle and arrest him. He then returned to Wright’s vehicle and began placing him under arrest.
“He exits the vehicle and I immediately advised him to turn around at this time, grabbed his hands behind his back. Immediately Sgt. Johnson advised Daunte he was under arrest. I immediately said the same thing, then Officer Potter said the same thing,” Luckey said.
“I was to able to get my handcuffs out and immediately when I placed the left handcuff on his wrist, he jerked his arm back.”
Potter was at the back of the vehicle at that time, and Johnson was on the front passenger side of the vehicle, according to Luckey.
“Right when (Wright) starts to tense up, I basically just told him, I said, ‘Don’t do it, bro,” Luckey said.
That’s when Wright looked to the right while Potter was approaching and attempting to grab his arm. Wright was able to get away and back into the vehicle, Luckey said.
At some point, Wright was able to get himself into the driver’s seat, Luckey said, and able to grab the steering wheel and pull himself back in the driver’s seat. That is when Potter ran over to the left side of Luckey to assist in getting Wright out of the car.
Johnson put his hand on the gear shift in the car, Luckey said. Wright was trying to “operate” the car to “drive away,” Luckey said.
“I heard Officer Potter say, ‘I’m going to tase you,'” he said, while he was trying to “gain control of Daunte.” He said he heard Potter say, “I’m going to tase you” a second time, then “Taser, Taser.”
Luckey then heard a bang, saying it was a firearm, and saw a flash, some smoke and “I suppose a firearm. It was a gun,” he said. When the shot went off, he was hit in the face with a “projectile.”
At the time he heard the bang, Luckey testified that he did not know whose gun it was, but he knew it wasn’t Wright’s because he was able to see his hands.
After the shot, Wright put the car in drive and took off and later crashed into a fence, Luckey said.
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