Kim Potter Trial Begins With Defense Saying All Daunte Wright Had to Do Was Surrender

The trial of Kim Potter, a former police officer in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center who shot and killed Daunte Wright and said she accidentally drew and fired her gun instead of her Taser, began Wednesday with her attorneys saying the incident could have been avoided if Wright had complied with police instructions.

Potter, 49, and another officer she was training stopped 20-year-old Wright on April 11 for expired license plate tags, before finding out he had an outstanding warrant for a weapons charge. The younger officer,Anthony Luckey, attempted to remove Wright from the car and place him under arrest.

Wright got out of Luckey's grasp and back into his car as Potter warned she would tase him. He was about to drive away when Potter drew her weapon and fired. While Potter has said that she believed she had taken out her Taser from its holster, it was actually her gun.

Luckey testified that he jumped back when he heard the shot and, because of the outstanding weapons charge, assumed the shot likely came from Wright.

Body camera and dashboard camera footage from the patrol car was introduced in court Wednesday that showed the incident playing out as the officers said it did, and after the gun is fired Potter is heard saying "I just shot him...I grabbed the wrong (expletive) gun!"

Prosecutors said police are trained often on that specific distinction and are encouraged to choose their own preference of where they place their equipment so they can draw each in their preferred style, cross-body or straight-draw, with their dominant or non-dominant hand, although the Taser is required to be on the non-dominant side with the gun on the dominant side.

Potter resigned two days after the incident and is currently on trial for manslaughter charges.

Last week, a jury of 14 was chosen, with nine white jurors, one Black and two Asian jurors hearing the case of the 49-year-old white female officer fatally shooting the 20-year-old Black man.

Kim Potter, Daunte Wright, Minneapolis
Former Brooklyn Center police Officer Kim Potter is on trial for manslaughter charges for the April death of Daunte Wright. In this screen grab from video, the prosecution (L) and the defense (R) rise as the jury enters the court on December 8, 2021, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Court TV/Associated Press

A prosecutor said Kim Potter had been trained how to avoid such deadly mix-ups but still got it wrong.

Potter's lawyer, though, argued that she made an error, saying, "Police officers are human beings."

The white officer resigned two days later.

A car crash can be heard after Wright drives away and Potter—who defense attorney Paul Engh said had never shot her gun or Taser in her 26-year career—can be heard wailing uncontrollably afterward, "Oh my God. Oh my God!" before she crumples over.

Wright's mother, Katie Bryant, testified about the moment she saw her son lying in his car after he'd been shot. She said she tried to contact him through a video call after losing an earlier phone connection, and that a woman—presumably Wright's passenger—answered and screamed, "They shot him!" and pointed the phone toward the driver's seat.

"And my son was laying there. He was unresponsive and he looked dead," Bryant said through tears.

A mostly white jury was seated last week in the case, which sparked angry demonstrations outside the Brooklyn Center police station last spring as former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin was on trial just 10 miles (16 kilometers) away for killing George Floyd.

Engh told jurors that Potter made a mistake when she grabbed the wrong weapon and shot Wright after he attempted to drive away while she and other officers were trying to arrest him.

But Engh also told them that Potter would have been justified in shooting Wright even if she had consciously chosen to draw her handgun, arguing that deadly force was warranted to protect her fellow officers. He said police had reason to believe that Wright might have a gun and that one of the officers had reached inside Wright's car and was at risk of being dragged if Wright drove away.

Prosecutor Erin Eldridge earlier told jurors that Potter violated her extensive training—including on the risks of firing the wrong weapon—and "betrayed a 20-year-old kid."

"This is exactly what she had been trained for years to prevent," Eldridge said. "But on April 11, she betrayed her badge and she failed Daunte Wright."

Defense attorneys argued in pretrial filings that her immediate reaction bolsters their argument that the shooting was a tragic accident.

Luckey testified that during the stop, he smelled marijuana and saw marijuana residue on the car's console. He also said Wright didn't have a license and produced an expired proof of insurance that was under another person's name.

After discovering there was a warrant for Wright's arrest on a weapons charge and a restraining order against Wright, Luckey said he was going to put Wright in handcuffs and check on the welfare of the woman in the car, and he asked Wright to get out.

Engh said the warrant for a weapons charge meant officers had to arrest Wright, and Luckey agreed.

Prosecutor Matthew Frank noted that officers do have discretion in the amount of force they can use. Luckey testified that the force he used was to try to pull Wright from the vehicle and turn off the car.

Prosecutors say Potter had been trained on Taser use several times during her career, including twice in the six months that preceded the shooting. They say Potter's training explicitly warns officers about confusing a handgun with a Taser and directs them "to learn the differences between their Taser and firearm to avoid such confusion."

Potter had hers positioned in a "straight draw" position, so she would draw it with her left hand.

"The only weapon she draws with her right hand is her gun, not her Taser," Eldridge said.

The prosecutor told jurors they would hear about several policies that she says Potter violated, including one that says flight from an officer is not a good cause to use a Taser.

The most serious charge against Potter requires prosecutors to prove recklessness, while the lesser requires them to prove culpable negligence. Minnesota's sentencing guidelines call for a prison term of just over seven years on the first-degree manslaughter count and four years on the second-degree one. Prosecutors have said they will seek a longer sentence.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kim Potter, Daunte Wright, Minneapolis
Former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter claims she thought she was using her taser when she shot Daunte Wright. Shown above is a general view of a memorial for Wright, which stands at the intersection where he was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Stephen Maturen/Getty Images