Kim Potter Not Justified in Using Deadly Force Against Daunte Wright, Expert Testifies

In the Kim Potter manslaughter trial on Wednesday, a use-of-force expert told the jury the former police officer's use of deadly force against Daunte Wright was not appropriate in this situation.

Potter shot and killed Wright, claiming she meant to pull her Taser instead of her gun when Wright tried to get back into his vehicle as police tried to arrest him on an outstanding weapons charge in Brooklyn Park, a suburb of Minneapolis.

Seth Wayne Stoughton, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, told jurors he didn't think a "reasonable officer" would have grabbed a Taser if the officer truly thought there was an immediate threat of danger at that time.

"The use of deadly force was not appropriate, and the evidence suggests a reasonable officer in Officer Potter's position could not have believed it was proportional to the threat at the time," he said.

Earlier Wednesday, a different use-of-force expert, Sergeant Mike Peterson, testified that police officers are allowed to use Tasers if someone is physically resisting police officers or is violent.

Peterson, an instructor for the use of force and Taser use at the Brooklyn Center Police Department, told the jury an officer has only moments to decide their next steps. The decision to use a Taser or another form of force "has to be made in a very short amount of time."

Peterson testified that officers are trained to give a verbal warning, such as saying "I'll tase you," before firing their weapon at an individual. He also told jurors that other officers in the country had previously mistaken a gun for a Taser in the country.

"Mistakes can happen when someone confuses a Taser with a gun?" Paul Engh, Potter's attorney asked Peterson.

"Correct," Peterson responded.

Kim Potter Trial Minnesota
In this screengrab from video, Brooklyn Center Police Sergeant Mike Peterson testifies as Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu presides over court on December 15, 2021, in the trial of former Brooklyn Center police Officer Kim Potter in the April 11, 2021, death of Daunte Wright, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Court TV/AP Photo

What's more, "A reasonable officer in that situation would not have believed," Stoughton said, those threats existed.

Stoughton also testified at Chauvin's trial, saying he judged Chauvin's actions against what a reasonable police officer in the same situation would have done and repeatedly found that Chauvin acted excessively when he held Floyd facedown with a knee across his neck for more than nine minutes.

Prosecutors nearing the end of their case have drawn on testimony from Potter's former colleagues to portray an officer whose intended use of a Taser would have violated department policy despite her extensive training.

The defense has called the shooting a horrific mistake but has also asserted that Potter would have been within her rights to use deadly force on Wright because he might have dragged another officer with his car.

On Tuesday, Brooklyn Center Police Commander Garett Flesland testified that Potter was trained on policies as they evolved during her 26-year career and repeatedly signed documents acknowledging the policies. Prosecutors introduced several documents that Flesland testified showed Potter's repeated certifications on Taser training, and her awareness of the warnings for their use—including a certification the month before Wright was shot.

Peterson on Tuesday also walked jurors through the Brooklyn Center department's training procedures for using Tasers as prosecutor Matthew Frank showed them pages from the manufacturer's and the department's training materials that warn against the dangers of mixing up a Taser and a handgun. Frank also highlighted portions that say a Taser should not be used simply to stop fleeing suspects or on suspects who are operating vehicles.

Peterson also demonstrated how officers are supposed to run a "spark test" at the beginning of every shift to check whether their Tasers are working. He did so with his own device, which generated a loud buzz for five seconds as electricity arced across the electrodes.

Sam McGinnis, a senior special agent with the state's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, testified Monday that Potter failed to run the test on her Taser on the day she shot Wright.

Judge Regina Chu ruled Tuesday that if Potter is convicted of one or both of the manslaughter counts against her, she would preside over a separate trial to determine if there were aggravating factors that would allow Chu to give Potter a sentence above what the state's guidelines suggest.

Potter, 49, is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter in Wright's death on April 11 after he was pulled over for having expired license plate tags and an air freshener dangling from his rear-view mirror. Video captured the moments when Wright pulled away from officers who were trying to arrest him on an outstanding warrant, with Potter shouting "I'll tase you!" and then shooting Wright with her handgun.

Potter is white and Wright was Black, and his death set off several nights of angry protests in Brooklyn Center. It happened while a white former officer, Derek Chauvin, was on trial in nearby Minneapolis for the killing of George Floyd.

Prosecutors presented evidence of these aggravating factors when they brought in testimony about injuries to Wright's passenger and an occupant of the car that collided with Wright's right after Potter shot him. Chu said that this testimony was not prejudicial and could remain part of this case because evidence about the crash also relates to whether Potter's use of force was reasonable.

State sentencing guidelines call for just over seven years in prison upon conviction of first-degree manslaughter and four years for second-degree, though prosecutors have said they plan to push for longer sentences.

In order for Potter to be sentenced above what the guidelines suggest, prosecutors would have to prove there were aggravating factors; prosecutors allege that Potter's conduct caused a danger to others and that she abused her position of authority.

Update 12/15/21, 3:35 p.m. ET: This story was updated to include law professor Seth Wayne Stoughton's testimony.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Taser vs Gun, Kim Potter Trial
This image provided by the prosecution shows the difference between a Taser and a Glock as the state delivers their opening statement on December 8, 2021, in the trial of former Brooklyn Center police Officer Kim Potter in the April 11 death of Daunte Wright, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. Court TV/AP Photo