Former police officer Kim Potter, who has said she mistook her firearm for her Taser when she fatally shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop near Minneapolis, broke down on the stand Friday — apologizing and insisting she “didn’t want to hurt anybody.”
“I was very distraught. I just shot somebody. I’m sorry it happened,” Potter cried as a prosecutor asked her about her behavior moments after the fatal shooting. “I’m so sorry.”
Asked whether she knew deadly force was “unreasonable and unwarranted,” Potter cried: “I didn’t want to hurt anybody.”
The defense rested Friday afternoon after an emotional Potter spent the hours on the stand, breaking down several times as she described the “chaotic” moments that day in April. Jury instructions and closing arguments are scheduled to begin Monday.
Potter, the last of more than 30 witnesses called over eight days, began weeping early in her testimony as she recalled the “look of fear” on another officer’s face as he struggled with Wright.
“It’s nothing I’ve seen before,” she said, weeping, recalling the officer reaching into the car to grab the 20-year-old Black father during the April encounter.
“We are struggling. We’re trying to keep him from driving away. It just went chaotic. I remember yelling — ‘Taser, Taser, Taser’ — and nothing happened. And then he told me I shot him,” she said, crying and placing her hands over her face.
It was the first time the 26-year veteran cop has recounted publicly in detail what happened that day. Some jurors took notes.
Potter fell apart again later when, under cross, a prosecutor played a video of what happened right before the shooting.
Her own words are the centerpiece of her defense against first- and second-degree manslaughter charges in the incident, which set off days of unrest in the city of Brooklyn Center after a summer of coast-to-coast protests over how police treat people of color.
Under cross-examination by prosecutor Erin Eldridge, Potter said Wright had not threatened the officers.
“You never saw a gun?” Eldridge asked.
“No,” Potter said.
He never threw a punch right?
He never kicked anyone?
He never said, I’m going to kill you?
He never said, I’m going to shoot you?
He never said, There’s a gun in the car and I’m coming after you?
Potter testified she has been trained on Tasers since 2002. The prosecutor showed photos of Potter’s yellow-and-black Taser and black firearm, side by side. Eldridge asked about the differences in drawing a gun and a Taser from opposite sides of a gun belt.
How does that gun come out of that holster?
It would rock forward.
How do you pull with your hand out of your holster?
It would rock forward and you would pull it out.
And the Taser, on the other hand, you would press the button, rock it backward and pull it out, correct?
Eldridge later played video of the moments before the shooting. In court, Wright’s mother cried and his father took her hand, according to a pool report.
“You have the firearm in your right hand, correct?” the prosecutor asked Potter.
“Yes,” the ex-cop said, starting to cry again.
“And you are pointing it directly at Mr. Wright, correct?”
Potter broke down. She closed her eyes, the pool report said. Defense attorney Earl Gray requested a break. The judge halted the proceedings for lunch. Gray consoled his client.
The state, which rested its case Thursday, presented more than two dozen witnesses over six days, including a policing expert who testified that Potter, who is White, was not justified in using deadly force when she fatally shot Wright.
Potter on Friday described how a traffic stop unraveled when Wright was told he was under arrest for an outstanding weapons warrant. Potter could not recall what she said after pulling the trigger, she testified.
The former officer testified she probably would not have stopped Wright’s car had she been by herself. But another officer pointed out the driver had used a turn signal inappropriately, the tags were expired and an air freshener hung from the rearview mirror.
The attempt to arrest Wright — and the fatal shooting — were set in motion when the officers learned about Wright’s warrant for a weapons violation, she testified.
Potter resigned from the force days after the killing.
“There was so much bad things happening,” Potter testified, referring to the unrest that followed the shooting. “I didn’t want my coworkers … I didn’t want anything bad to happen to the city.”
Her Taser was a new model, Potter testified
Minutes before recounted the shooting, Potter testified she had received a new Taser model days before the shooting.
Potter was issued the new Taser on March 26, she said. She shot Wright on April 11. She told jurors she had never deployed the device while on duty.
“I would take my Taser out on rare occasions, but I don’t believe I ever deployed it,” she said.
Potter told jurors she had received no “weapons confusion” training. The subject occasionally came up at training.
Potter, wearing a light yellow sweater and dark pants, opened her testimony by removing her mask and giving her age, 49, and saying she has been married to a retired police officer for 25 years. They met in high school; she was 15.
Potter told jurors they have two sons, one an active duty Marine and the other a college student who planned to be home for the holidays.
Potter’s husband, Jeff Potter, sat in the courtroom as she testified, as did Wright’s father, Arbuey Wright, and mother, Katie Bryant. Potter had other family members in the courtroom.
The ex-officer’s former police chief, a law enforcement expert and other defense witnesses were called to the stand Thursday, with Potter’s former boss testifying he concluded there was “no violation … of policy, procedure, law,” after reviewing body camera and other video following the April 11 shooting.
Prosecutors say Potter acted recklessly
Video of the shooting shows after officers pulled over Wright and tried to arrest him on an outstanding warrant, he got back into his vehicle and attempted to flee. At that point, Potter pulled out her firearm and shot him — later saying she instead meant to use her Taser.
“I grabbed the wrong f**king gun, and I shot him,” Potter said just after the shooting.
Her defense has characterized the killing as an accident while also arguing she was within her rights to use deadly force to protect another officer who was reaching into Wright’s car when Potter opened fire.
Prosecutors sought to counter that claim with expert testimony as they argued Potter was negligent and acted recklessly in mistaking her gun for her Taser.
“The use of deadly force was not appropriate, and the evidence suggests that a reasonable officer in Officer Potter’s position could not have believed it was proportional to the threat at the time,” University of South Carolina School of Law associate professor Seth Stoughton testified Wednesday for the state, calling Potter’s actions “excessive and inappropriate.”
A Taser would have been effective in incapacitating Wright, the first defense witness testified Thursday. Still, deadly force is warranted if an officer is partly inside a vehicle as a suspect is attempting to drive away, said Stephen Ijames, a law enforcement expert and former assistant police chief from Missouri.
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