As Daunte Wright lay mortally wounded in the driver’s seat of his car, the police officer who had fired a single bullet into his chest collapsed on the side of the road, sobbing as she explained that she had thought she was holding her Taser. “I’m going to go to prison,” she said, on video captured at the scene in April.
Jurors will soon decide the fate of the officer, Kimberly Potter, after hearing from 33 witnesses over the last week and a half in a Minneapolis courtroom. Ms. Potter faces charges of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter, and a conviction on either count would likely send her to prison for several years. Closing arguments are expected on Monday.
Ms. Potter, 49, who is white, resigned from the police force in Brooklyn Center, a Minneapolis suburb, two days after the fatal shooting of Mr. Wright, a 20-year-old Black man who was driving to get his car washed.
Here are the key moments from the trial.
Ms. Potter testified that she was ‘sorry it happened.’
Ms. Potter took the witness stand in her own defense on the last day of her trial. She broke down several times as she described a “chaotic” scene during the traffic stop on April 11 and said she had significant holes in her memory.
“I’m sorry it happened,” Ms. Potter testified through tears. “I didn’t want to hurt anybody.”
Ms. Potter said she remembered little about what happened in the moments after the shooting.
“I remember yelling ‘Taser! Taser! Taser!’ and nothing happened, and then he told me I shot him,” Ms. Potter told the jurors. In body camera footage, Mr. Wright can be heard saying “Ah, he shot me” before his car lurched forward and crashed down the block.
During cross-examination, a prosecutor questioned Ms. Potter intensely over her reason for pulling her gun, asking if Mr. Wright had threatened or punched an officer or if Ms. Potter had seen a gun in his car. Each time, Ms. Potter responded with “No.”
The prosecutor, Erin Eldridge, also displayed side-by-side photographs of Ms. Potter’s Taser, which is mostly yellow, and her handgun, a Glock that is entirely black.
“These items look different, don’t they?” Ms. Eldridge asked.
“Yes,” Ms. Potter replied.
The prosecutor also asked Ms. Potter whether she knew her left from her right — she carried her gun on the right side of her police belt and her Taser on the left.
Ms. Potter testified that she believed that she had never fired her Taser while on patrol during the 19 years she had carried one on her belt, though she had drawn it in the past.
She also said that she likely would not have pulled Mr. Wright’s car over had she not been training a rookie police officer who wanted to do so. That officer, Anthony Luckey, pulled Mr. Wright over because Mr. Wright had an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror and the car’s registration was expired.
‘What have I done?’ Ms. Potter collapsed, sobbing, in video shown for the first time
Since the shooting on April 11, the public had seen only a roughly minute-long video of Ms. Potter threatening to stun Mr. Wright with her Taser and shouting “Taser! Taser! Taser!” before she fired a single bullet into his chest.
But at the trial, jurors saw new body camera and police dash camera videos that were played publicly for the first time.
“I grabbed the wrong gun,” Ms. Potter says, using an expletive, in one video that captured the moments immediately after the shooting. She collapses to the ground, sobbing, as two fellow officers try to comfort her.
At one point in the videos, she suggested killing herself. Several minutes later, a fellow officer, Sgt. Mychal Johnson, took a gun from her holster and surreptitiously emptied it of ammunition before returning it to her, fearing that she might shoot herself.
Prosecutors played the videos several times in court, likely trying to show jurors that Ms. Potter believed, at the time, that she had done something wrong, or even broken the law.
“What have I done?” she said several times. As the videos were shown in court, Ms. Potter shook and cried.
But there were also parts of the video that aided the defense. When Ms. Potter said she was going to go to prison, Sergeant Johnson, one of two other officers at the scene of the shooting, responded: “Kim, that guy was trying to take off with me in the car.”
Whether that was true has become a key point of contention at trial.
Prosecutors and Ms. Potter’s lawyers agree that Ms. Potter did not mean to fire her gun, but prosecutors have argued that the mistake was so reckless that she should be imprisoned. Defense lawyers have said that she was right to try to use her Taser to stop Mr. Wright from fleeing, but that she also would have been justified even if she had intended to use her gun, because Sergeant Johnson was in danger of being dragged.
Daunte Wright’s mother broke down on the stand
Mr. Wright’s mother, Katie Bryant, cried several times as she recounted being on the phone with Mr. Wright just seconds before he was killed.
Mr. Wright was driving to a carwash with a woman he had recently started seeing when he was pulled over.
Ms. Bryant said her son sounded nervous when he called her during the traffic stop. She told him things would be fine, but then the call abruptly ended. The officers had discovered that a judge had issued a warrant for Mr. Wright’s arrest after he missed a court date on charges of illegally possessing a gun and running from the police. When an officer tried to handcuff Mr. Wright, he pulled away and got back in the driver’s seat.
Understand the Killing of Daunte Wright
The shooting. As Mr. Wright broke free from another officer who was trying to handcuff him, Ms. Potter called out a warning, suggesting that she was using her Taser, and fired a single shot, killing Mr. Wright.
The charges. Ms. Potter faces two felony charges: first-degree manslaughter and second-degree manslaughter. Neither charge suggests that she intended to kill Mr. Wright. A conviction on either charge would probably send her to prison for several years, at least.
Ms. Bryant said she frantically tried to call her son back. Eventually, his companion, Alayna Albrecht-Payton, answered the video call and screamed that Mr. Wright had been shot. Ms. Albrecht-Payton turned the phone toward the driver’s seat, and Ms. Bryant saw her son slumped there.
Ms. Bryant testified that she sped to the scene of the shooting in Brooklyn Center and knew that her son was dead when she saw his shoes sticking out from a white sheet.
“I wanted to comfort my baby, I wanted to hold him,” Ms. Bryant testified through tears. “I wanted to protect him because that’s what mothers do. We protect our children and make sure that they’re safe.”
The prosecution’s own police witnesses defended Ms. Potter, as did the former police chief.
One police officer testified that Ms. Potter was right to use her Taser on Mr. Wright. Another went further, saying that even had Ms. Potter intended to use her gun, it would have been justified. And a third called Ms. Potter “a good cop” and suggested it might have been reasonable for Ms. Potter to shoot Mr. Wright.
All three of the officers worked for the Brooklyn Center Police Department, and all bolstered parts of Ms. Potter’s defense. They were also all put on the stand by prosecutors.
Perhaps most significant was the testimony of Sergeant Johnson, who said, in response to questions from Ms. Potter’s lawyers, that he had been in danger of being seriously hurt or killed if Mr. Wright had driven off while he was still leaning into the passenger side of the car. Sergeant Johnson testified that although Ms. Potter had intended to use her Taser, she had been justified in using her gun, under Minnesota law, in order to save him from suffering serious harm or death.
Tim Gannon, who was the chief of the Brooklyn Center Police Department for five and a half years before he was forced to resign in the wake of the shooting, testified that Ms. Potter was a good officer who had not broken his department’s rules when she killed Mr. Wright.
Mr. Gannon, who was called by the defense, said that when he reviewed videos of the shooting, he saw “no violation — of policy, procedure or law.”
“There’s certain things within the department that you get known for,” he said. “Are you handling your calls? Are you professional when you talk with people? Are you doing good police reports? She was known for doing all of those things.”
Two policing experts clashed over whether it was OK to use a Taser or a gun in the situation.
To an expert hired by prosecutors, Ms. Potter had acted inappropriately when she fired her gun, but she also would have been in the wrong had she successfully used her Taser. To an expert testifying for the defense, using a Taser would have been in line with best policing practices, but Ms. Potter was also justified in firing her gun in the circumstances she was facing.
The prosecution expert, Seth Stoughton, a law professor at the University of South Carolina and a former police officer, said Mr. Wright had not posed a threat that warranted the firing of Ms. Potter’s gun and that she had fired it in an inappropriate condition — in close proximity to a fellow officer and Mr. Wright’s passenger in the front seat of a car. Stunning Mr. Wright with a Taser would also have been too risky to be appropriate, he said.
“It’s really dangerous to incapacitate — the way the Taser can incapacitate — someone who is in a position to get a vehicle moving,” Mr. Stoughton said. “You can create an unguided hazard.”
When the defense lawyers had their turn to question an expert, they called Steve Ijames, who had worked as a police officer in Missouri for about 42 years. He said that if Sergeant Johnson was leaning into the car, Ms. Potter was justified in firing her gun, and that she also would have been right to use her Taser.
“If that car gets in drive, it’s going to get bad,” Mr. Ijames said. “The Taser is that unique device that, when performing as designed and intended, would have put a stop to it.”